Why Darden’s Professors Are The Best MBA Teachers On The Planet

Darden Professor Lalin Anik

A superstar in the classroom, Darden Professor Lalin Anik poses for a photo with MBA students in her core marketing class. Photo by John A. Byrne


For all junior faculty, the day of reckoning occurs after exams are given to students and the final grades are in. Then, a professor will get the student evaluations. They are treated with the utmost seriousness (see sample questions below). “If you get whacked you don’t feel good about it and it can be hard,” says Steenburgh. “For junior faculty, it can put you in a tailspin and can eat some people up.”

That did not happen to either Cian or Anik. The evaluations were immediate raves. Since then, the pair are among the highest rated professors at Darden. Cian is easily within the top 10% of teaching evaluations at Darden and was voted Faculty Marshal by the Darden Class of 2017, the highest honor bestowed by students on a professor at the school. Two years later, Anik was selected as Faculty Marshal. In the five core and three elective courses she has taught at Darden, Anik’s teaching effectiveness score on student evaluations is a remarkable 4.99 on a five-point scale. Both made Poets&Quants‘ 40-under-40 list of the world’s best business schools professors last year, and Anik also was named MBA Professor of the Year.

As a youngster growing up in the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Italian Alps, Cian would never have imagined himself teaching at a world class business school. An only child and first generation college grad, his mother never stepped foot on a college campus while his father, who owned his own eyeglass business, started but never finished. “But they trained me to have curiosity and to think outside the box,” says Cian. “They always believed in me and supported whatever I wanted to do.” Sadly, his father passed away when Cian was at Michigan’s Ross School of Business, first doing his doctorate as a visiting Ph.D. student and then spending three years at Ross as a postdoctoral fellow, “He knew all the effort I put into this but had never seen the reward. I think he would be very proud right now.”


Senior Associate Dean For Faculty Development Tom Steenburgh: ‘He is a mentor, a leader, a guide, a friend. I look up to him.’

Anik says her father always wanted to be a doctor and get a Ph.D. Instead, he became a civil engineer, while her mother was an English major in college, a classically trained violinist, ballerina and child movie star. “What brought them together was theater and the arts,” she says. “In college my mom auditioned for my dad’s play. She was walking through the corridors and heard his voice and wondered who is that? She went in and auditioned. My dad comes from the theater and is now a full-time theater critic.”

“They really pushed me to move,” she recalls. “They said, ‘Turkey is not going to do well in the next 15 to 20 years. Go and do other things in the world.’” So at the age of 17, in 2002, she came to the U.S. to do her undergraduate studies at Brandeis University. 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. Anik ultimately landed in the doctorate program at Harvard Business School. “My mom told me early on that I could be a good teacher. She thought I could draw a lot of energy from my students. Clearly, she had a good understanding of who I was.”

But being a “good teacher” is quite different than being a true master in the classroom. What clearly made a difference for both young professors is the outsized attention paid to teaching at Darden. Besides the one-on-one mentoring, there are the twice-a-week teaching group meetings to dissect every case that will be taught, reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and ensure that students in all five sections of the course get the same primary takeaways. In the first year, these meetings could last as long as four hours and then occasionally reconvene at 8 p.m., the evening before class.


On a brisk Sunday morning last fall, Steenburgh gathers four junior faculty members, including Cian and Anik, around a mahogany conference table in a stuffy room. Steenburgh sits at one end, close to the blackboard he will use to map out the key elements of the upcoming case on HubSpot, the marketing software company founded by two MIT Sloan MBA students. Steenburgh knows the Harvard Business School case well. He wrote it with two colleagues while at Harvard where he taught as an assistant and then associate professor from 2003 to 2012 before coming to Darden. Over his career, Steenburgh has taught the case more than 50 times.

During the two and one-half hour teaching meeting, he gently leads a conversation on the previous class, how well the back-and-forth between students was paced, how the lessons unfolded, and how enthusiastic and engaged the students were. There’s a conversation on how to build tension in the class over the case and whether it is a keeper for next year.

Then, he dives into the 21-page HubSpot case which explores the concept of inbound marketing, pulling customers toward a business through the use of Web 2.0 tools and applications like blogging, search engine optimization, and social media. The challenge presented in the case is one of market segmentation. Should HubSpot make a more conscious effort to target some customers and turn away others?

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