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From Our Partners: Poets&Quants’ Interview With Darden Dean Scott Beardsley

Dean Scott Beardsley

P&Q: Charlottesville helps that close-knit bond that people have with the school, because a you’re in a small, progressive and dynamic economy in a community. It’s not like people can disappear into the creases of a city, so they stick together more closely. Faculty is more accessible as a result. This is how you get these really close bonds that last forever.

Beardsley: That’s true. I think if I reflect upon my own education and where I went to school, and I did not go to school here, I went to three different institutions, I went to Penn, MIT and Tufts University. I have very fond memories of all of them, so I would just say that the level of intimacy and ability to get to know your faculty members here is extraordinarily high. Faculty actually want to get to know you, they want to get to know your name, it is very common for faculty to have students over to their home. In fact, I do very regularly, in fact tonight I have my classes taught in my home. I’ll come back and talk about that a little bit later, but this is very common that faculty get to know their students outside the classroom and sometimes even have class at their home.

That connection for time and place also plays a role in the student satisfaction and the experience here at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. What does that mean? Well, we have a residential MBA program. We also have our executive MBA program, which is a different format, but let’s stick with the residential MBA program for a moment. That means that you are living someplace, and you’re spending just under two years of your life in a community. Not only that community have people like the faculty and the staff that we just talked about, but the community also has other things going on.

Let me tell you about Charlottesville. First of all, Charlottesville’s a very dynamic community. It’s about 230,000 people in the county of around Charlottesville. It’s a very progressive, dynamic community. We’ve had the benefit of being rated the happiest place to live in the country, the nicest place to live in the country, the best place for wine, the best place for food lovers. It’s an incredible place. We are located not far from Washington, DC. For those who don’t know Charlottesville or they don’t know Virginia, especially if you’re from abroad, where is this place? We’re near Washington, D.C. Thomas Jefferson used to ride his horse from here to Washington, DC when he would go to the White House and be the president. Then we are near Richmond, which is the capital of Virginia, that’s about a million people, and that’s just over 60 miles away.

The way I think about it is, I had a couple of faculty and staff that we just hired here. One was from LA, and one was from the Washington, DC area. I asked them, “So how long was your to work when you were in Los Angeles?” One was, ” I commute about an hour and 45 minutes to work each way.” In Washington it was about an hour 30. I said, “Basically you could be in Washington DC or in the suburbs from here every day with that kind of a commute.” So we’re not far.

I like to think of Charlottesville as the Tuscany of the East Coast. I’m not exaggerating when I say that in any way, but it is the analogy that comes to my mind, because we’re surrounded by vineyards, it’s known as being one of the best wine destinations in the entire country, we’re located far enough south so that if we were in Europe we would be on the Mediterranean, we’re the same level as Gibraltar, so actually we’re a little bit south of Tuscany. We’re surrounded by mountains, the Shenandoah Valley in the Shenandoah Valley National Park. All of that combined makes for a beautiful outdoor setting that is very safe, but in not a small community.

It’s a remarkably vibrant place with a lot of wealth, a lot of startups built around the University of Virginia. The University of Virginia is also a very interesting and amazing place. I’ll tell you a few things about that. We’re just celebrating our 200th anniversary. As many people know, but not all, the University was founded by Thomas Jefferson, who laid it out in all its details and then founded the school. On October 6th, it was our 200th anniversary, the bicentennial with presidents Madison, Monroe and Jefferson, they laid the cornerstone for the university of Virginia, which has gone on to be one of the great public universities of this country, always been ranked in the top two or three for decades and decades and decades. That in of itself is a wonderful community to be part of.

P&Q: You live in a house on The Lawn which was designed, in fact, by Thomas Jefferson.

Beardsley: That’s right, John. There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in North America, and the University of Virginia’s campus, called the Academical village, is one of the three, the other two being the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall. Jefferson’s focus was also architecture. He created the original campus as a series of studies in architecture, Ionic, Doric, Corinthian, many different forms of architecture. I have the privilege to live in a home that was called a pavilion that was designed by Thomas Jefferson himself, and the original classrooms were in my pavilion. So I actually teach class in the original classroom that was designed by Jefferson himself, and I happen to live in the same building upstairs. It’s a wonderful privilege to live in that history.

When we moved here what we discovered is this is probably one of the nicest places you can live anywhere in the world, to be honest, without any exaggeration. The weather is amazing, the culture scene is very vibrant, the outdoor life is great, the sports scene is truly exceptional. Last night, for example, I went to the basketball game, we’re playing Wisconsin on ESPN. The sports scene here is outstanding. In 2015 the University of Virginia was voted the best men’s athletic program in the United States, they were national champions in baseball, tennis, and soccer that year. Other national titles have been in in women’s swimming, also in lacrosse, many different sports. So it’s got a lot to do.

We find that our students like to work hard and they like to play hard. There’s a lot to do if you want to play as well, and I’m sort of in that category. I’m a tennis player myself. Some of our students are equestrian riders or they play polo. University of Virginia has among the most amazing facilities for horseback riding and polo in the country. If you like to play tennis, there’s lots of outdoor courts, there’s a beautiful indoor facility. A lot of our students like to play golf, the golf course is about five minute drive from here, it’s very cheap.

P&Q: Plus, Scott, you have an Olympic sized swimming pool within steps of the business school.

Beardsley: That’s right. From just where we’re sitting here, doing this interview, the Olympic sized swimming pool is about a hundred yards away maximum. Our students can go over there, and there’s spin classes, there’s squash courts, there’s racquetball wait rooms, and it’s all within steps of here. Darden is a residential MBA program. University of Virginia has its own housing within steps of our business school academic buildings, so we have residential options for our students, which is perhaps one of the reasons why just this past couple weeks ago Forbes … no, sorry, the Princeton … Let me take that again. Two weeks ago the Princeton Review ranked Darden as having the best campus environment of any US-based business school. I think part of that is because not only is our community a wonderful place to be and the business school itself and the buildings and the campus, or we call it the grounds, are very beautiful here, but also the proximity to all the other things you would want to do for fun, whether it’s the Olympic swimming pool right next door, all the workout, the golf course is five minutes away, it’s very affordable, it’s owned by UVA.

We have the best squash facility, squash court facility in the country, there’s no doubt, and that’s minutes away. It’s very, very affordable. Or students want to do equestrian, ride their own horses, there’s almost somewhere between 80 and 100 horses for the students. Or they want to play on the polo team, there’s a yet another facility for polo. Depending on what you want to do, you want to go hiking, biking, the Rivanna trail runs right behind Darden within steps of where we’re sitting here. That’s a trail that runs right up through the national parks. There’s an awful lot that you can do.

If you’re a musician, if you love music, we have an extraordinarily vibrant music scene here. The Dave Matthews Band is from Charlottesville, but also because of our basketball arena, we have the big acts come through here. Just in the past few years we’ve had Elton John, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder. We’ve had the concert for Charlottesville very recently, we had Justin Timberlake, Coldplay, Pharrell, the Roots, Dave Matthews Band, Stevie Wonder, they all came and they put on an absolutely incredible show. So there’s a lot to do on the music scene. There’s also a small music scene on the Downtown Mall. Lots of people like music, they’re very fulfilled here.

For foodies, there’s an organic movement, farm to fork, but also an incredible density of restaurants from all different kinds of ethnicities. That’s a big attraction point. So almost anything that you can think about that you would want to do, you can do it from right here. Even if you want to do … Let’s say you’re into museums. Well, we also have our campus in Washington, DC, so that’s also for any Darden student. We have our Washington, DC campus 90 miles away, and they can go use that, and then avail themselves of all the museums in Washington, which are free. So there’s an awful lot of culture, there’s a great food scene, there’s an incredible sports scene, whether you want to play the sports or whether you want to watch the sports. There’s just a lot to do, and you put that all together in a package where you can live nearby in a very safe community with lots of trees and beautiful weather, and you’ve got a great experience is basically what you have.

P&Q: Yet in August you had an event in the Charlottesville that actually resulted in global headlines that might have caused some international candidates to worry about coming to Charlottesville.

Beardsley: Sure.

P&Q: What do you say about that?

Beardsley: Well, the events of August upset everybody. I asked the question … In fact, they happened on my front doorstep, to be very clear. Why did they happen here is the real question, and what happened? Well, I think why they happened here is precisely because Charlottesville is a progressive community. It’s a beautiful place, all the nice reasons I just mentioned to you, why Charlottesville has been rated the happiest city in the country, the nicest place to live, best campus in the country, all of this type of stuff with a UNESCO World Heritage Site make it a great place to capture headlines, if you want to come. You want to get a reaction, bring hate and messages of intolerance, go to a place that is all about diversity and inclusion and has a UNESCO world heritage site, and you will get a reaction, and that’s precisely what happened.

So that is not at all what Charlottesville is is about, just like whatever other terrorist event that you want to think about is not what those cities are about. New York City is not about the World Trade Center or the Brussels Airport is not about the terrorists that attacked there, and Charlottesville is not about what happened from all these people that came from away and decided to launch a protest at our campus. That’s not what we’re about. We’re about inclusion, the message of hatred has nothing to do with what we’re about. a few days later, John, we had 6,000 or 7,000 people with candles marching in the same spot talking about love and inclusion. Then we had this amazing concert for Charlottesville with all the headline acts Coldplay, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell, Stevie Wonder, Dave Matthews Band, The Roots, all these amazing bands, Ariana Grande, they all came and the community came together.

I’m very proud with the way this community responded. We turned it into a learning experience. If these types of issues are the things you care about, diversity, inclusion, how do we make a world that allows people to come together rather than splits them apart, if you want to be a leader that learns how to deal with these issues, Darden is the best place in the world to come learn about that, because we talk about these things and we teach our students how to go on and deal with them, because guess what? No matter where you are leading, you’re going to face issues that are societal in nature.

P&Q: Sure.

Beardsley: Now, what I would also tell anyone that has never been to Charlottesville is that it is an extraordinarily safe and wonderful place. If you don’t believe me, just come yourself. The only the only thing I can say is, come see for yourself, like I did. I had to come for the first time. I flew in here from Belgium, I had never been to Charlottesville, and I remember calling my wife and saying, “Wow, this place is amazing.” It’s also very safe. To put one very simple point on the matter, it’s an extremely safe place. I don’t even lock my door at night, in fact, I leave my house open, and I live right in the middle of the most busy part of the university, and we don’t lock our door. I leave a rocking chair out in front of our pavilion, it has been sitting there unchained, anybody could steal it if they wanted. It’s a very nice rocking chair by the way, handmade, and people come and use it. It’s a very safe community, it’s just a wonderful place to live.

So, yes, the events upset us in August, but they have set us because it’s not what we’re about, and that’s not what happens here in Charlottesville on a regular basis. Usually everybody’s just out having an amazing time. For 48 hours Charlottesville was hijacked by some people that have a different agenda.

P&Q: Indeed. One of the goals that you have as dean, Scott, is to make higher education more affordable. Tell me why you feel strongly about that issue.

Beardsley: Well, education is one of the few gifts in the world that allow you to go from anywhere to anywhere. I believe that an MBA education prepares a leader to go make a difference in any context, whether it’s a not-for- profit or whether it’s a for-profit. Everything is a business, basically, whether you’re a government or an NGO. Everything is budgets, you have to have good people, you have to get things done, you have to lead, you have to make things better. That’s all about being a leader. What we’re doing is contributing leaders to the world. The world has a lot of problems that needs to be solved. I think business is going to have to solve most of them. If you put it in that context, that we’re doing something here that really makes a difference to the world and help somebody from anywhere, could be from any country in the world, from any economic background that wants to come and make a difference and change the world in the way they want to change the world, I want to make that accessible to anybody independent of their financial means. Business education is not only for the rich or for those who want to get heavily in debt. So I believe that my mission is to make education as affordable as possible, as accessible as possible, and to make the return on that investment the maximum possible. Another way of saying it is, the more affordable business education, or I would broaden the equation, education in general, becomes, the more choices students have. My ideal outcome is that a student does not have to consider their student loans that much when making their career decision. So if you want to start your own company, it’s easier to do it if you don’t have student loans, or if you want to go to work for a not-for-profit for a while, it’s easier to do it if you don’t have student loans. There’s also some people who come from a culture where borrowing money is viewed as a bad thing. It’s not part of the culture, they’re afraid of it, or it’s difficult, because we attract students from all over the world here. We are not a state school just attracting people from Virginia, over a third of our students are from foreign countries, they’re global. We have students from all over the United States as well from all kinds of backgrounds. I know that for the student it’s very expensive to go to business school. I was a student myself that came from very modest roots, and I had to borrow a lot of money to go to school, and it stressed me, a lot. I want students to have the maximum set of options for themselves. So a big priority for me has been to make Darden more affordable and accessible for all people.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.