From Our Partners: MBA Prof Of 2017: Darden’s Greg Fairchild

A second-year MBA student at Darden and volunteer instructor, Jonathan Jones says his interest in Darden’s Prison Program comes from a history of family members falling in and out of the system (Photo by Amy Jackson)

SELLING PIZZAS IN MOSCOW

While pursuing his MBA at UVA’s Darden School, Fairchild participated in a trip to Moscow where the students were tasked marketing a Pizza Hut operation in the region. As he thought how to sell an American product in a communist market, Fairchild penned a case which later became one of Darden’s most frequently taught and best-selling case studies.

But it wasn’t his ability to write a good case study that got him thinking about a teaching career. It was the encouragement of a Darden professor who saw Fairchild’s potential and pointed him in the direction of a PhD. “I did not enter Darden thinking I would be sitting in front of you now talking as a professor,” he says. “I was pretty clear that I was going to head into the brand management consumer business. I had been in the fashion business. For me, that seemed like a proper path. While I was here, though, because of the very thing you talk about, some of the faculty got to know me, and I was shocked during the end of my first year, when one of the faculty, who is now one of my faculty colleagues, said, “You know, the way you ask questions in the room, you might want to think about coming back and getting a PhD. And I’ll tell you I was both flattered and afraid because I didn’t see myself as that type of person.”

After completing his degree at Darden he remained connected to fashion as best he could, accepting a position in Procter & Gamble’s cosmetics division. “But the seed had been planted. And I point out to you that that seed is because people knew me and had a relationship with me personally. And so, in my instance, that led me, coincidentally, back here.” He left P&G after a three-year stint as an assistant brand manager for Pantene Haircare and Clarion Cosmetics, heading to New York in 1995 to pursue his PhD at Columbia University, only to start as an assistant professor at Darden after earning his PhD in 2000.

‘HE DEEPLY CARES ABOUT EACH OF HIS STUDENTS’

Teaching seemed to come natural to him. As one former student puts it, “Greg truly wants to build a relationship with each and every one of his students, a relationship that extends well beyond the walls of Darden and the lessons of ethics or strategy. He deeply cares about each of his students and wants to not only see us succeed in our chosen careers but also find happiness and balance in our personal lives (see Where MBA Students Write ‘Love Letters’ To Their Profs). Fairchild’s class felt like an intimate, intellectual conversation amongst 65 of your closest friends, not a typical classroom.”

More recently, Fairchild has taken on another challenge at Darden as associate dean of Washington, D.C., Initiatives. This spring the school is opening a campus in 40,000-square-foot of space on the top two floors of a 31-story building in Arlington, Va. It will house Darden’s newly launched Executive MBA program as well as executive education offerings. The satelite campus is two hours away from UVA’s Charlottesville home.

Fairchild, who now finds himself shuttling between the two places every week, seems excited by the possibilities. “Washington, D.C. is a place of ideas,” he says.“I like to joke, they don’t make much there that’s physical. What they do make some people will say is hot air. But what I’d say is it’s a place where the battle for good ideas is taken. So we’re in the midst of that and can offer educational opportunities in the form of a degree, executive education, a conference, or a special event. It’s also an asset that provides a wealth of opportunities for students who could be looking for certain careers in Washington. For companies that care about the way policy and business interact, we can give them real insights that we couldn’t offer in many other places on the planet. So I think we have a structural, physical and geographic advantage in being there.”

A LETTER TO THE DEAN & A PROGRAM IN JAIL

Before this latest assignment, however, it wasn’t until a letter arrived in 2011 in the mailbox of then Dean Robert Bruner that one of the most extraordinary things occurred in Fairchild’s journey. The letter was from a prisoner whose release date was fast approaching. The writer asked how he the school could help him turn his entrepreneurial idea into reality.

“Usually that gets a laugh from people who are in the know because, well, the Darden School runs programs at $49,000 a year,” says Fairchild. But Bruner insisted on giving the writer an answer, and called on Fairchild to do so. “‘Greg, I mean to respond to this gentleman,'” Bruner told Fairchild. “‘I mean to say something. I don’t know what we’re going to say, but I mean to say something.'”

“I was well aware of the challenges the nation was having around the incarceration levels that we have in the country, the size of it,” recalls Fairchild. “We have the largest prison system in the world. It bothered me. I didn’t know exactly what I could do a business person, as a business professor to be of help.”

Then, Bruner turned over the letter from the prisoner, Jervon Herbin. “Jervon’s letter talked about his desire to make a new change in his life. He’d made mistakes. He’d reached a point in his life where he’d learned that he was neither invulnerable nor infallible. And he recognized that what he needed was a business education. He knew how to do repairs. He knew the construction trade. And he felt like he could be employed. But he felt like there were other parts of understanding the way business organizations worked and understanding the way finance works, personal finance even.”

‘I’M THE PERSON WHO SENT YOUR CHILD TO PRISON’

Fairchild ended up going to the governor’s office in Virginia and doing a three-minute pitch to teach entrepreneurship and business management in prison for free. for the idea. “We left the room and the following Tuesday I got the call to say, ‘Well, let’s begin talking about how to do this.'”

Within three months, Fairchild found himelf in front of a group of 13 male prisoners at Dillwyn Correctional Facility. He also persuaded four MBA students to create a curriculum on how to start a small business. Nearly seven years later, the program has flourished. In the latest round, 33 second-year MBA students applied for the 28 teaching slots at two Virginia prisons, one at Dillwyn for men and another at Fluvanna for women. They teach two-hour-plus classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays in a trio of courses: entrepreneurship, financial capability and the foundations of business. It’s not an easy assignment. Students teach 30 weeks a year, a total of at least 240 hours of instruction per year in each facility.

In the six years since the program’s launch, graduates of the program will total more than 450 by year’s end. Some 136 Darden MBAs have taught over that timeframe. No less impressive, the school has written 68 case studies for use in the three programs and also created a non-profit organization to administer the program with his wife, Tierney Temple Fairchild, who is also a Darden MBA. The program’s ultimate goal, of course, is to help inmates overcome the stigma of past errors and skill deficits and secure employment once out of jail. Fairchild believes that turning prison inmates into entrepreneurs is possible and in some cases necessary for an ex-offender to find a job.

“I’m amazed as we sit here that there are students who have read about the program and apply to Darden with the hope of being in the prison program,” he says. “I had no idea that there would be students who put their volunteer work in prison on their resumes. I had no idea that I would have a conversation with the head of strategy from 3M, and she would say, ‘Oh and by the way, I was wondering if you could tell me about the prison program because students are bringing it up.'”

A BENEFIT TO STUDENTS’ HEARTS

Perhaps the biggest surprise for Fairchild is that he consistently gets more applicants to teach prisoners than he has available slots. As I jokingly say, there are a certain number of students every year to whom I have to say, ‘I’m sorry. You won’t be going to prison this year.’ My other favorite line is for the parents at graduation. Every year, one of the students in the program will introduce me to their parents the first thing I say is, ‘So don’t get mad at me. I’m the person who sent your child to prison.’ And some parents have said, ‘Well, when I first heard about this, I really wondered about it.’ But I have other parents who just come alive and tell me how great it was that this opportunity was there.”

For the students in the Darden Prison Program, the benefits are obvious. “One of the things the MBAs tell me is that they have to really understand the stuff they learned in the first year because they got to teach it to somebody else,” says Fairchild. “That type of engagement leads to not only a better prepared person, but I also think it ties the person to the institution in a way that is less than transactional.

“There’s a stereotype that’s out there about business school and businesses,” says Fairchild. “That it’s about money. That it has little to do with worrying about other than self. Well, at Darden we don’t believe that. We teach ethics. We teach all those things. This is one example of where it is real, it is clear. Students find themselves going two nights a week to teach people who I’m not sure are going to benefit them directly in their financial pockets. But they do so because they feel like it’s benefiting them in terms of their hearts, and in terms of our society.”

DON’T MISS: DEAN OF THE YEAR: KELLOGG’S SALLY BLOUNT & MBA PROGRAM OF THE YEAR: CORNELL TECH’S INNOVATIVE MBA

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

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.