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

UVA Darden's Luca Cian and Lalin Anik

UVA Darden’s Luca Cian and Lalin Anik


Little more than 15 minutes into the discussion, another student nailed the economics of the case. It’s exactly the scenario that had come up the previous morning during the teaching meeting. “Let’s leave that for later,” she tells the student, congratulating him on smartly crunching the numbers to get to the heart of the case.

She’ll return to the calculations some 25 minutes later, returning to the same student for his analysis of the value of each customer.

“Don’t let equations scare you,” she advises the class. “So now that we’ve run some numbers, who do we go after?”

The discussion is fast-paced, and Anik is like a conductor of a heart-racing Beethoven symphony. Ideas replace notes with Anik teasing out every nuance and accenting every major takeaway She wanders all over the class, hands and arms flailing, picking and choosing students for their differing perspectives, then challenging them with still more questions and observations. She’ll often pass on the students who have already spoken but whose hands stay in the air to make sure as many different students as possible get air time. By class end, 48 of the 70 students in class would have contributed to the discussion.


She ends just as Steenburgh had suggested, with the video and the slides, wrapping up the conclusions and explaining that HubSpot actually went with Ollies first. By making the product more sophisticated, the founders discovered they could convert more Marys as well. The revenue per user went up. The churn rates dropped with more product improvements. The company went public and now has 57,000 customers vs. 1,000 when the case was written in 2010.

“If this were an exam,” she asks, “what do you think I am looking for? You got this!”

The class ends in a crescendo as students again begin pounding their fists on the desks in approval.

Cian’s class begins at 10 a.m. in classroom 120, not long after Anik’s ends, with a similar wall-slapping, desk-pounding opener, this one led by a cheerleading student who shouts, “Who are we?” “Lions,” the class answers loudly, naming the mascot for section A. “What do we do?” “Roar!”

A grinning Cian watches from the sidelines standing tall in a gray Cavalli suit with a white shirt and a skinny tie.

“What are the main themes in the case?,” starts Cian once the clamor is over. “Of course, you know.”


The hands go up and the students are called. While the discussion unfolds not all that differently than it did in Anik’s class, there are significant differences that reflect each professor’s own style. This version starts with a question posed by Cian on how HubSpot can reach more Marys before weighing the benefits and costs of each market segment.

“Is there anything that keeps you awake at night by going with Marys?” Cian asks the students. Later, he says, “Who wants to make the case for Ollies?”

Early on, one student notes she did some back-of-the-envelope CLV calculations.

“Let’s avoid that,” says Cian. “I just don’t want to go in the weeds right now.”

Cian’s energy is infectious. He wanders all over the classroom, up and down the steps of the tiered space, sometimes moving so frenetically that he could be mistaken for a blur. His teaching is physically strenuous and intense. When a student makes a worthwhile contribution, he will immediately acknowledge it and encourage more. The reinforcement comes fast and furious. During the class, 45 different students are called upon to give their point of view.

“Fantastic!,” he’ll often shout. “Interesting!” “Very good, very good!” “I love it!’


To draw out a student, he’ll say: “Tell me more about that. What do you mean?” Or he’ll put it this way: “That’s very smart of you. How did you come up with that?”

He explores the company’s pricing, asking students if HubSpot should instead price low at first and then move higher. “It’s the try-it-you’ll-like-it approach,” says Cian. “Can you think of others who use discounted model pricing? How about Comcast? Drug dealers? They all use it.”

To engage the students over which customer segment warrants HubSpot investment, he happily hands out $10 bills to a group of students (the idea he had called Anik about at midnight) and asks them to invest in either Marys or Ollies and then to calculate the lifetime value of the investments. “In a startup with limited money and limited time, you want the maximum return possible in the shortest time,” he says.

When he asks a student for the precise calculation, accounting for such variables as the churn rates and lifetime retention of each customer segment, Cian whoops. “You don’t Google it and see the truth! You have to work it. Fantastic!”


Unlike Anik, he does not end with either the video interview or the slides, preferring to wrap up with the lessons of the case himself. “First of all, we can see that numbers are important,” says Cian. “But different calculations can give us a different understanding of the challenge. Secondly, CLV is something we can use to improve growth and profitability.”

Loud clapping by the students ends yet another magical class, much appreciated by the MBA candidates. “It’s the energy in the room that makes the ideas stick,” says Robby O’Brien, a former consultant from Toronto who has taken Cian’s core marketing class.

Reflecting on what just occurred, Cian sits with Anik over lunch in the faculty dining room to compare notes. “There’s no secret to this,” he says, picking over a salad. “There’s an emotional component to it, but everyone has to follow their personality. You have to understand what’s going on in the classroom and show students you care about them.”

Anik agrees. “I look back and realize the classes go better when I meet them where they are. Instead of pulling them to the idea, it is almost like a dance. You have to lead and follow, and then trust builds. The total knowledge in that classroom from 70 students is much more than I can bring. When I don’t know something, I look to the class for help. I know their stories and where their hearts are. Making them feel seen, heard and valued is what’s important.”

What Students Say About Anik

Comments From Anik’s Student Evaluations
“Lalin was wonderful. She combines her heart with her incisive knowledge of marketing to make for an engaging and powerful class.”
“Lalin is brilliant. She conducts the class like an orchestra. She knows how to tease brilliant remarks out of shy students. She knows when to tap on the “Go to” students when we’re struggling. She fosters these brilliant discussions that we’re all better for having participating in. She’s honestly one of the best teachers I’ve had.”
“She keeps the conversation focused on the case, steers the conversation forward in an incredibly inclusive manner. She makes herself widely available outside of class and makes a real effort to get to know every student on a more personal level.”
“Lalin was without a doubt the best instructor we had in Q1. She really put the time and effort into getting to know her students, understand their backgrounds, and use that to help guide class discussions. She was incredibly supportive, making sure that each of us were on top of the material and building confidence in our ability to speak during class and do the analysis.”
“Lalin is a VERY special professor. She teaches with such compassion and knowledge and one can really see her commitment to the Darden learning environment. I have never felt more motivated to do well or to push forward the discussion of my classmates more than in this class.”
“Lalin does a great job of digging deep into the material and challenging your assumptions. This allows for rich class discussions which really bring the core themes of each case and the entire course to life.”
“Lalin is always incredibly deliberate with her cold calls, and I greatly appreciated that. She made sure those who have experience in any given subject matter were given their time to speak, or those who speak a lot in class were not cold called.”
“Lalin is by far my favorite professor I’ve had throughout my academic career. In terms of pure instruction I think she does a good job of moving conversations further and teasing out ideas, ‘pushing’ students without feeling intimidating. More importantly I found her to be highly considerate and empathetic.”
“Lalin is one of the most amazing people on this planet. She makes it very clear that she cares about every one of us and that has had a huge positive impact on our section, both in her class and outside of it.”


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