Lalin Anik was all of 19 years of age when she felt the first inkling that perhaps she would like to devote her life to teaching. At the time, in 2004, she was a research lab assistant for a marketing professor at the London Business School.
Fast forward 15 years later and Anik is an undisputed master in the classroom, one of the true superstar business professors in the world. And that is saying something because she is at a school–the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business–that can rightly boast of having the best MBA faculty in the world.
As an award-winning teacher, Anik was named as one of the “2019 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors” by Poets&Quants. She also received the Faculty Diversity Award at Darden in 2019 and 2017, was selected as the Faculty Marshal by the MBA Class of 2019 and has been nominated for the Outstanding Faculty Award multiple times. Her student evaluations are off the charts, more often than not perfect 5.0 scores on teaching effectiveness for both her core marketing course and her innovative second-year elective, Deviant Marketing.
DARDEN’S LALIN ANIK: ‘YOU CONNECT WITH HER NOT JUST AS A PROFESSOR BUT AS A PERSON’
Yet, what makes Anik unique is her relationships with students. “I think what makes Lalin so special is just her ability to connect with you, not just on a professor to pupil but as a person to person,” says Alexander Gregorio, who is earning both an MBA and law degree at the University of Virginia. “You’re not feeling like you’re talking to someone who’s a subject matter expert, and she is. You’re talking with someone who wants to learn from you as much as you want to learn from her.”
Darden Dean Scott Beardsley, who has helped to recruit 31 new faculty members to Darden in five years, couldn’t agree more. “The students admire, both her willingness to have courageous conversations on difficult topics, but also her willingness to think big. And beyond that, she also just brings a lot of joy everywhere she goes.”
Poets&Quants’ Founder and Editor-in-Chief John A. Byrne recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Lalin for an interview on the campus of the University of Virginia (see video above). An edited transcript of their conversation follows:
John A. Byrne: Lalin, you came to Darden in 2015 after earning your doctorate at the Harvard Business School and doing a postdoc fellowship at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. You’ve taught in the MBA, Executive Education and Ph.D. programs at Harvard Business School, Duke University and Brandeis University. What makes Darden different than those schools and others?
Lalin Anik: I would say our community, the intentionality and the intimacy in that community. We’re a smaller school, a smaller student body than the comparable schools that you mentioned. Our faculty is smaller, too, and we’re very high touch, very close. High touch iamong the faculty as well as between the faculty and staff, and the faculty and students. We’re constantly interacting and we go deeper than sort of surface level interactions.
Byrne: And Darden is a school that is known for having the best MBA teaching faculty in the world, so the expectation on you, walking into that core marketing class for the first time, had to be extraordinarily high.
Anik: Sure. I used to be an athlete. I swam for Turkey for about two decades. And I prepared for it as if going into a big event, and I still keep the same rituals around that kind of training for my teaching. I go to bed early and I get up, and I approach it with that energy.
Byrne: Now students love your courses. You were voted Faculty Marshal at graduation, which is the highest honor that a professor at Darden can get from students. What do you think it is about you or your teaching style or maybe even the empathy you show in a classroom that makes students so connect with you?
Anik: I see my students as family. So when I walk into the classroom on the first day, I already know their names. I have learned a bit about them. I can ask the right questions or I can ask questions that will be challenging for different people. It’s not one size fits all. So it starts there, getting to know them. But as we go through class after class, I’m learning with them and I’m guiding them. Yes, I’m their professor, but there’s this interaction that happens that we open up. I play sports with them. I love basketball and soccer, so I practice with them a couple of times a week. I compete with them. There’s Darden Clubs organized around sports, so I compete in my section.
Byrne: That’s great. What do you hope that your students gain from your courses?
Anik: What I hope my students gain from my classes is that they have an intuition about marketing, about how humans tick, right? How they behave. And as marketers, how they can bring this value to human life. But I think at the top level, I approach it as I am teaching them how to think, how to ask the right questions. So that you can move towards finding the answers, so that you can ask more and deeper questions. And I hope that when they leave Darden, that they can ask both specific and broad questions to answer the big problems in the world.
Byrne: How does your being a woman affect the way you teach, the way you fit into the culture at Darden?
Anik: This year, Darden has reached the highest number of female students in our history: 40% of our student body. It’s incredible that we’re making these strides. And as I think about it as a woman, it is important for me that in and outside of classroom, I’m a leader. As a professor, I set an example about how women in business can be. If I can inspire my students to think outside the box and to not get stuck in the stereotypes of how a woman should be, this is how women should dress, this is how a woman should act, this is where a woman should be, this is a woman’s place…If I can get them to break out of that box, I think that’s part of my job and I’d be very happy.
Byrne: And you’re one of 31 new faculty at Darden in the past five years. Many of the newcomers are international. What does that bring to the Darden culture?
Anik: We aspire to ask and to answer the questions of tomorrow, not of today. And those questions are diverse. They come from very different backgrounds. They relate to different geographies in the world. And in order to be able to answer them, we need to be diverse in our thinking, in our values, in the way we function, in our transformational learning experiences. So diversity across the spectrum, starting with faculty and with our students, brings a richer experience.
Byrne: Lalin, thank you so much for spending your time with us.
Anik: Thank you very much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.