Darden Dean On MBA Demand, Scholarships & The Value Of The MBA

It has just been a little more than four years since Scott Beardsley made the career pivot of a lifetime, leaving McKinsey & Co., where he had been a senior partner, for the deanship of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. His transition into academia has been nothing but a total success. In fact, this spring, he was reappointed by UVA to a second five-year term, even though he had nearly a year and one-half to go on his first term.

Among other things, Beardsley has generated more than $180 million in new commitments and matching funds since his arrival, money sorely needed for scholarships, global programs, and faculty research. In May, he announced a massive $68 million gift on top of the $180 million, representing the largest pledge in the school’s history from an already generous MBA alum who graduated from the school in 1963. Frank M. Sands Sr., the now-retired founder of Sands Capital Management, made the pledge which also honors his late wife, Marjorie R. Sands, a lifelong educator.

Beardsley also has played a role in hiring 31 new faculty at Darden. Some of those new hires have already received perfect teaching marks from MBA students and several have been nominated by students to be faculty marshals for graduation, one of the highest honors bestowed on a professor from the students.

AN INTERVIEW WITH DARDEN DEAN SCOTT BEARDSLEY

On a recent visit to Darden’s campus in Charlottesville, Va., Poets&Quants founder John A. Byrne caught up with Beardsley in the living room of his home on the university’s expansive Lawn, a UNESCO World Heritage site. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation:

John A. Byrne: So, Scott, even though you spent most of your life working with corporate executives at McKinsey, you come to this campus and you seem natural in connecting with students. How did that happen?

Scott C. Beardsley: At the end of the day, I love students. The whole purpose of being a dean or being in education is to help other people achieve their full potential.  There’s nothing I love more than taking a student who is trying to find their way in the world and helping them find their passion. I want to help them be on their way to making the world a better place. Darden is a place that can take someone from anywhere and help them to go anywhere.

Byrne: While MBA applications have declined at the top schools in the past two years, you have the ironic consequence of some incredible career outcomes. In 2019, as we sit here, your school is reporting among the best MBA pay and placement rates in its history. Why?

Beardsley: I think it speaks to the quality of the people that are coming through the school and the education that they’re getting. The employers are finding that our students have something to offer and the need for outstanding business leaders is going up. It is at an all-time high and it will continue to grow.

Byrne: People who want the full impact of the truly transformative education are going to certainly choose a two-year, on-campus experience.

Beardsley: Yes, and I think the market speaks for itself. Students sare elf selecting the formats that they like. Some people want to keep working, some people don’t. Some people want to be career switchers, some don’t. One of the things I would encourage applicants to do at all times is to think about who are all the stakeholders involved. Why are they telling you what they’re telling you? What’s in their interest? In a volatile world where uncertainty is rising, options have greater value. We know this from financial theory. In effect, business education is an option. You’ve created more possibilities for yourself to be reinserted into a workforce in many different ways in an evolving landscape.

Byrne: One of the innovations that contributed to these great career outcomes was a STEM-designated track in your MBA program, which helped international students land jobs in the U.S.

Beardsley: Yes. And what that allows any international student in particular to get is three years of optional professional training (OPT), which is, in effect, a pathway to getting a visa to stay in the United States for up to three years. What this also allows students that find the right company is to have three shots at the H1B visa process.

Byrne:  That is certainly an attractive option for international students. So, Scott, we’re here in Pavilion I, which is on the university’s lawn at the center of the campus, the Thomas Jefferson Academical Village. Some deans live in these pavilions, mostly it’s students. Why did you decide to live here?

Beardsley: How many chances in a lifetime might you have to live in a UNESCO World Heritage site? This is where the cornerstone of the University of Virginia was laid 200 years ago, approximately, by Madison Monroe and Jefferson. Right here, this was the beginning of the University of Virginia. The culture of the place is collaborative. It’s historical, it’s about excellence and how proximity with students and faculty creates the conversations and the relationships that you just can’t have in a virtual world.

Byrne: So far, in your first term as dean, you’ve increased fundraising to record levels. You’ve secured two top 10 rankings positions for your MBA. Almost most impressively, to me, you’ve recruited 31 new faculty.

Beardsley: And that’s something I really care about, having great faculty, having a great educational experience because, after all, that is what education is about, it’s about learning.

Byrne: And you have spent a lot of time increasing the amount of fundraising devoted to scholarships.

Beardsley: Yes. We know that students who have a lower debt load are able to have more options they can consider. For example, if you want to be an entrepreneur and you have a lower debt load, it is much easier to think about starting your own company, rather than worrying about how I’m going to pay back my student loan. At Darden, we’re very focused on making sure that anybody from anywhere can have the right to go and get the best education they can. We have incredible momentum right now. It’s a very exciting time to be at this school. My objective is to use that momentum fully to take the school to its full potential.

Byrne: Well, Scott, it’s been a pleasure to sit with you in your home here at Pavilion I. Thank you.

Beardsley: Thank you very much, John. It’s been nothing but a pleasure.

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.