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

Darden Dean Scott Beardsley

P&Q: In a very short period of time you’ve raised a considerable amount of philanthropic support for scholarship aid in Darden.

Beardsley: Yes, I have. It’s thanks to our alumni that believe in the school and saw that Darden changed their life that we’ve been able to do that. I’ll give you a few facts that might be of interest. First, is that any student that gets accepted at Darden, we accept their need, and every student can get loans signed by Darden, co-signed by Darden, for their full tuition, room, board, books and a global experience. Darden will provide whatever financial support is required for any student from anywhere in the world no matter what your country.

P&Q: That’s a big deal, because in many cases international students need a U.S. co-signer.

Beardsley: That’s right. We provide that. So it doesn’t matter what country you’re from, Darden has your back when it comes to financial loans. Secondly, we know that some people want more than loans, they also want scholarships or they want it to be affordable. A couple of things on that. As you pointed out, John, we have been lucky to increase the support for scholarships. We do have a lot of scholarship support. In fact, we looked at our fundraising in the last fiscal year, it was 700% higher than it was two fiscal years before in 2015 for scholarships. The amount of alumni support flowing in to support scholarships has increased dramatically. That’s allowed us, if you will, on an annual basis, double the amount of scholarship support in total that we have for incoming students. That’s a big move to have doubled the amount of scholarship dollars available for students. I think it’s a wonderful thing.

My goal is to make Darden as affordable and accessible as possible, and if I measure myself by how much has the net tuition declined is my goal, is to make that as big as possible, because then we will be able to change more people’s life and we will allow them to have even higher return on their investment, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.

P&Q: A lot of students who come to any business school come obviously for the immediate improvement in their professional lives, but they also make a bet on a school’s longevity in its future. How do you see Darden’s future evolving over the next five, 10, 15 years?

Beardsley: Well, I see it evolving in a very positive way. We are definitely going to be around for the long haul. The University of Virginia and the Darden School of Business are not going away, that is for sure. We are all about excellence over the long term. This is a place that is making the investments not only to make our current students lives as good as possible and our faculty and our staff, but we are also investing for the long haul. That’s taking a number of different … let’s say, there’s a number of different ways we’re trying to do that. First, if I look at the long term, we’ve just finished a strategy process that involved all of our stakeholders, our faculty staff, students, alumni looked at external benchmarks, et cetera, as any good strategy process should. We have a few basic priorities. If I boil them down to be really simple, they are about students, they are about our faculty and they are about our infrastructure and associated partnerships.

If I take them each in turn, on the student side, our priority is really to make, first of all, Darden more affordable and accessible and to have the best diversity we can have. That means, for us, people from all over the world, all the backgrounds in the world that comprise our planet, that’s the business world is the globe. Part of that equation is affordability and accessibility to get the best and the brightest from all backgrounds here to Darden, but it’s also about investing in their future career support and all of that. We’ve just invested significantly in our Career Services Department hiring some very senior people to work on things like venture capital and private equity, but also consulting and technology, to pick three in particular, all senior career advisors. So we’re investing in our students and in their outcomes and in the personalization that they want. That’s number one.

Second is the faculty. That is absolutely essential for a school that prides itself on being the best teaching institution in the world and also for having the best faculty in the world. There we are investing in the next generation of our faculty. Some of our faculty, as is the case for many other schools, there’s generational turnover. The baby boomers are retiring and we are no exception there, so we’ve had a number of recent hires in the faculty arena. Just since I’ve been here, we’ve hired 12 new faculty, and nine of them hold foreign passports, some of them are dual citizens.

The third area is everything to do with our infrastructure writ large, and that includes things like technology innovation. It is about our innovation labs, it is also about our core footprint. I mentioned that we’re here in Charlottesville, we have one of the most beautiful campuses anywhere in the world, if not the most beautiful. We also have our campus in Washington, that’s a new development for us. We have a small field office in Shanghai in the French Quarter. We have a lot of our students that go and do job treks and take classes in Silicon Valley area. We also have what we call global experiences. So part of Darden’s footprint is also getting all of our students to leave the comforts of Virginia and to get out in the world. We’ve doubled the number of student days abroad in the last couple of years at Darden, and that has allowed students to go study in, last year, 18 countries, 35 locations. The number of offerings is increasing. So that’s been part of our infrastructure. We’re doing some basic things like rebuilding our hotel here or-

P&Q: Because you have a master plan for how this is all going to play out?

Beardsley: Yes. We have a five to 10-year master plan that involves, for example, rebuilding our conference facility in our hotel. We have 177 room hotel here, we’re rebuilding that. It’s going to be a world-class facility. We have a number of projects that are underway and some of which have been completed to just improve the buildings that are already beautiful, but to take them to the next level. We always want to invest in the future. Then I would say, John, there’s another part that is related to, let’s say, partnerships writ large that are quite interesting. For example, some prospective students may not know that the CFA Institute is located in Charlottesville, and actually Darden helped to found the CFA Institute, one of the earlier deans was the first leader over there, the CFA Institute. We have a fantastic working relationship and a memorandum of understanding. Many of our students take the CFA while they’re here at Darden, and we also have a program with them, where some of their CFA test takers can win a scholarship to come to Darden as well. We’re both located here in Charlottesville, they do many events here, we work closely with them. We partnership and a memorandum of understanding with them, that’s very promising, and that is already working very well.

We’ve also set up a number of other interesting options for students. I mention that, because I find that students want to personalize everything. Everybody’s got something different that they want to do. So I’ve realized that to be a great world-class business school, you have to have other partnerships. You can’t do it all by yourself. The great thing about University of Virginia is that it’s a university that is very strong in multiple domains. For example, there’s the largest and best medical school in the state of Virginia right here.

Secondly, we have a master of education and the MBA. You can also get that done in two years. That’s also very popular, for those who say, “Look, I’d like to go into business, but down the road I actually would like to go into higher ed. I want to do kind of good in education, but I also like business, so …” or, “I like edtech,” stuff like that. We have a dual degree offering with them. We have a dual degree offering in public policy, master’s of public policy and the MBA, you can also get that. We have a dual degree with the law school, the JD MBA. So that is also an option. We have the MD/MBA, for those who can’t get enough from one degree and want another five years at the medical school, they can do that too. There’s always a few students that are doing that.

My point is that there’s a lot of different ways to personalize the education options with amazing other university degree programs right here at Darden.

In terms of career satisfaction and student outcomes, let me mention one fact. Darden was ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the number one school for career placement among top 20 US business schools in 2016. That just speaks to the success that our students have, but also how employers are finding the students that they want. There’s a great matchmaking that’s happening there.

P&Q: Another aspect of the culture here is how student-centered it is. I mean, students have a role in the governance of the institution and play a very big role in all the co-curricular activity that occurs here. Talk about that.

Beardsley: Students actually play an incredibly strong role in running the University of Virginia. It dates even back to Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy of decentralized leadership, power to the people. That really does play itself out at the University of Virginia and at Darden. Students have enormous amount of power in their clubs, they have a voice in the student leadership of the institution, and they administer perhaps most importantly, the honor code. There’s a very strong honor code at the University of Virginia and at Darden, it’s a single sanction policy. If there is any accusation of cheating or doing something wrong, it is the students themselves who have a trial by their peers and the sanctions are determined by the students in there, and they have their own seat on the board of the university through that honor code.

The other thing is that it leads to students actually leading parts of Darden. A good example of that is they manage the student finance and investing club. They manage part of our endowment. So I think this year it’s somewhere between just under $15 million that they managed actively in their own investing strategies, and then they report their results to the board of our foundation. The board of our foundation has people like the CFO of the Bank of America, the chairman of Citibank, a lot of very successful executives that know exactly what they’re doing with finance. I’ll tell you that the students have had excellent results in managing the endowment. That’s just one example of how students play a very major leadership role here at Darden.

P&Q: Scott, you are a passionate advocate for the school. Let me throw you a trick question. If you had to do it all over again, would you really go to that other school in Cambridge for your MBA?

Beardsley: If I could go back all over again, would I come to Darden or would I go to a different school? It’s easy to look back in time, but I guess the best way would be to say, what do I advise my own children? I tell my children that the best place that they could get an MBA is right here. I do believe that if your objective is to learn and you want to have an incredible residential MBA experience and you want to learn from the best teaching faculty in the world, I think this is the place to do it.

I would love to be able to go back into the classroom and be a student here. It would be amazing. But that is why I decided to come here and teach, because every time you teach in the Socratic method, you are both teacher and student. I learn every time I teach a class from the students here, and that’s the magic of the Darden classroom is that it’s not one person bestowing their wisdom onto you in a lecture, it is actually the wisdom of the crowd. It is the wisdom of all of your classmates that gets shared with each other. That makes every learning experience a serendipitous moment that you don’t know what you’re going to learn from your classmates, but you find out things that you never would have learned in a lecture, because everybody can just sit there and be quiet.


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