Dean Of The Year: Scott Beardsley Of UVA’s Darden School Of Business

A case discussion extends beyond the classroom at Darden

THE COVID MBA EXPERIENCE: ‘I CAN’T THINK OF A BETTER WAY TO DO IT’

He also believes the school has dealt well in converting a highly social program to remote instruction and then hybrid during the pandemic. “When the traditional model of education had to be switched online in two weeks, the school was really nimble in dealing with tough logistical questions. Over the summer to this fall the faculty have been really well prepared. Classes have been organized. I have been both on the internal side on the TA side as well as on the student side and things are working very smoothly. I can’t think of a better way to do it.”

Gregorio had taken one class with Beardsley and is set to take another, Corporate Strategic Leadership, this coming year before his graduation. What most impressed him in that first seminar with 16 students in Pavilion I was the dean’s view that learning is a two-way street. “He wants to learn from us as much as we want to learn from him,” says Gregorio. “He really wants to engage with students and invites them to his Pavilion. It’s another piece of evidence that shows he is really interested in knowing his students.”

Through it all, Woodfolk says he has never seen Beardsley lose faith. “I never get a feeling from him that this is a job. Not once. On the hardest days, I’ve gone to talk to him ready to go negative at 6:30 at night and he will say, ‘But imagine if we could do this or that. We were in a conversation once about a very large donor who could potentially fund the full master plan. After investing a lot of effort, it wasn’t to be. I was saddened by that. But Scott looks at me dead in the eye and says, ‘That is okay, Michael. We just have to keep fishing. There are other people out there, and we just have to find the next person. And maybe it won’t’ be the full thing. It might be a piece of it, but we will do this. We really will.’ That typifies the man. One door closes but he believes that three more will open and we just have to find them.”

When Beardsley expanded the school’s presence in the Washington, D.C., metro area by securing a major gift to open in 2018 a new 40,000 square foot classroom and conference space on the upper two floors of an office building, he wanted the school’s name prominently featured on the building in Rosslyn, Va. “The landlord said you probably need to lease more of the building to get your name on it or it will cost you a bunch of money,” recalls Greg Fairchild who helped to lead the expansion. “It was a healthy six-figure number with more than a one at the front of it. Or he said we had to lease four floors instead of two. We got that news and I said, ‘Oh well, I guess it’s not going to happen.’

‘SCOTT JUST DIDN’T TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER’

“Scott just didn’t take no for an answer. He wanted the university name on the building because it would add a veneer of prestige that you wouldn’t otherwise have. Scott recognized that there were relationships between the property company and our donor whose offices were in the next building that was also managed by the same property company.”

When the new facility opened its doors, Beardsley had gotten his way.“As soon as the name went up on the building in the first week of July (in 2018), Darden alums starting texting us photos they took from airplanes they were in getting ready to land at Reagan,” laughs Fairchild. “I was reminded that academics might not have been figured out a way to keep plugging to find different solutions. He pushes you and himself to keep asking for things that might not seem possible.”

The health crisis reinforced Beardsley’s belief that this second act in his life is the right one. “The nice thing about a crisis is that it reminds you about what matters,” he says. “And what matters is the mission and staying true to your values. More than ever, COVID gives you an opportunity to change people’s lives because the external context is difficult. In that context. I do believe education is an essential service to society. Society needs education and the world needs responsible leaders. I salute all the business schools out there that are continuing to operate. Every university has had to work so hard to keep the trains running. It is the basic things that matter. Education matters. Although it has been difficult, we are privileged to try to help the world be better in this way.”

‘YOU MAY LOSE A TENNIS MATCH 6-3 BUT IT MAY HAVE BEEN THE BEST MATCH YOU EVER PLAYED’

“I never would have predicted that the things I would have had to deal with were the tiki-torch march down the Lawn and COVID crisis,” he muses. “But that is what makes leadership roles interesting. You have to operate with the hand you are dealt with and the context you are dealt with. It is one of the things I teach in my class. Your achievements are only a function of the level of obstacles you overcome. You may lose a tennis match 6-3, but it may have been the best match you ever played. So in a way, I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to do what I can do. Every crisis is an opportunity to improve yourself, to stretch yourself, to find your limits, and to see if you have a new gear.”

Over the next four years of his second term, Beardsley will build on his long list of accomplishments, opening the doors to Darden’s newest building and its commitment to lifelong learning. But number one on his agenda is ensuring that the student experience at Darden is never second to any other rival and maintaining the excellence in teaching for which Darden is renowned.

“At the end of the day,” he says, “the strategy is about excellence and being outstanding. And there are a lot of things that go into that. I want Darden to stay the best teaching business school in the world. We are locked in on that. And we have new ways to do that with technology. I am excited about future collaborations with the University of Virginia. I am just excited about the possibilities. There is lots more to do. I feel the best is yet to come but I have a lot I need to improve upon.” 

The Best of 2020 at Poets&Quants

DEAN OF THE YEAR: UVA DARDEN’S SCOTT BEARDSLEY

MBA PROGRAM OF THE YEAR: INDIANA UNIVERSITY’S KELLEY DIRECT

P&Q PROFESSOR OF THE YEAR: HARVARD’S DEEPAK MALHOTRA

P&Q’S MOST POPULAR (AND IMPORTANT) STORIS OF 2020

2020 BUSINESS SCHOOL RANKINGS: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION

MBA PAY & PROFILES 2020 SCHOOL EMPLOYMENT & CLASS REPORTS

P&Q’S TOP BUSINESS SCHOOL SCANDALS OF 2020

B-SCHOOLS (TRY TO) PREDICT WHAT 2021 WILL LOOK LIKE

BUSINESS SCHOOL DEANS SHARE 2021 RESOLUTIONS

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