How Darden Is Putting Charlottesville’s Protest Behind It

“I’m a believer in silver linings, says Dean Scott Beardsley of the Darden School at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville

When Scott Beardsley was a first-year MBA student at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, he applied for and was rejected by eight different consulting firms for a summer internship.

Undaunted, the 25-year-old Beardsley earned from the MIT faculty a fortuitous consolation prize: He became the student editor of the Sloan Management Review. Over his last year at Sloan, he was in a position to review the essays by the partners of many of the firms that had turned him down.

“I’m a believer in silver linings,” says Beardsley, who joined McKinsey & Co. in 1989 with his Sloan MBA and spent 26 years at the global consulting firm, becoming one of the fastest ever to be elected to senior partner. After those earlier eight rejections in difficult case interviews, Beardsley smiles, “I saw the curve ball and knew how to hit it.”

THROWN A NEW CURVE 26 MONTHS INTO HIS DEANSHIP

Now, two years into his deanship at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, Beardsley has been thrown yet another curve, as wicked as one unleashed by pitching ace Clayton Kershaw: The violent August protests in Charlottesville by white supremacists that made headlines all over the globe.

Even though the protesters came in from out of town and even though it was a random event in a place known for its progressive values, the incident is having a predictable impact on early applications to both the wider university and its business school.

For international students, who have little understanding of American politics and protests, it has been enough to scare off many who might have had the highly ranked Darden on their target lists. For underrepresented minorities and Jews in the U.S., the torchlight procession and racist chants on the university’s grounds—meant to evoke marches of Hitler Youth—may well be hard to erase.

‘WE HAVE A TOUGH TWO YEARS AHEAD BUT I’M GOING TO FIGHT FOR AND ENJOY THE COMEBACK’

Beardsley recalls that after the terrorist attack at the Brussels airport in March 2016, fearful tourists steered clear of Belgium. Tourism plunged, with Brussel’s main shopping district, Rue de Neuve, became eerily empty of people for months.

“It has taken nearly two years for Brussels to bounce back,” says Beardsley, who had worked for McKinsey in Belgium before taking the job as Darden dean in August of 2015. “We might have a tough two years to get through this in admissions,” he concedes. “But I’m going to fight for and enjoy the comeback.”

Beardsley is a firm believer in the famous Winston Churchill retort that one should “never let a good crisis go to waste.” So he has been working overtime to fight the mistaken notion that Charlottesville is unsafe and unwelcoming. He is rallying the school’s stakeholders, from current students to alumni, to reach out and spread the good word about the school and the quintessential college town that is nestled at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park.

‘2) INCREDIBLE REASONS TO GO TO DARDEN FOR YOUR MBA’

Since arriving at Darden, the dean has compiled a list of “20 incredible reasons” for students to come to Charlottesville for an MBA and among them are highly favorable factoids about life in this small city just two hours from Washington, D.C. Charlottesville, he points out, has been voted the happiest city to live in the U.S., the best town in America to live, the best place for foodies, and the top U.S. college town.

Though Beardsley confides that he finds rankings “annoying,” he proudly ticks off a series of accolades given to Darden’s MBA program from an array of recent ranking lists. They range from having the most satisfied students (Forbes) and the best educational experience (The Economist) to the best career placement of any Top 20 business school (U.S. News) to the best general management program (The Financial Times).

Nonetheless, round one applications are down, and Beardsley is concerned enough to acknowledge that the negative publicity is nothing less than a full-blown crisis for the school. In fact, for a highly selective MBA program with the best teaching faculty in the world, the crisis represents an extraordinary opportunity for savvy applicants who would likely face less competition for a seat in next year’s class.

DEAN SCOTT BEARDSLEY’S 20 INCREDIBLE REASONS TO GET AN MBA AT DARDEN
1. No. 1: Most Satisfied Students (Forbes, 2015-16)
2. No. 1: Best Career Placement Of Top 20 B-Schools (U.S. News, 2017)
3. No. 1: Personal Development & Educational Experience (The Economist, 2012-2015)
4. No. 1: Best Education Experience (The Economist, 2011-2016)
5. No. 1: Facilities (Financial Times, 2015-2017)
6. No. 1: General Management Program (Financial Times, 2012-2017)
7. No. 1: Faculty (Financial Times, 2014-2017)
8. No. 1: Leading MBA Program In The Field Of Business Ethics (Business & Society, 2011-2012)
9. No. 3: MBA Global Ranking (The Economist, 2016)
10. No. 1: Fastest Growing Venture Capital City In USA (The National Venture Capital Association, 2015-2016
11. No. 1: USA’s Happiest City (U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research)
12. Best Town In USA For Food Lovers (Rand McNally)
13. Top USA Wine Travel Destination (Travel & Leisure)
14. Top USA College Town (Travelers Today)
15. Best Place To Live In The U.S. (Cities Ranked & Rated)
16. Most Beautiful College Campus In USA (Best College Reviews)
17. Only University UNESCO World Heritage Site In North America
18. Capital One Cup Winner: Best College Sports Program in USA
19. A ‘Public Ivy’ ranked No. 1, 2 or 3 Public University In USA For Decades (U.S. News)
20. No. 1 Graduation Rate In USA For African-Americans For 16 Years (Journal of Blacks in Higher Education)