Vanderbilt Hires UVA Darden Star As New Dean

Tom Steenburgh will become the new dean of Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management

Vanderbilt University has poached a major player out of the University of Virginia’s Darden School for its new business school dean. The announcement was made on the day that Vanderbilt’s full-time MBA program slipped out of the Top 25 in U.S. Newslatest business school ranking into a three-way tie with Rochester Simon and UT-Dallas Jindal.

Thomas J. Steenburgh, a senior associate dean at Darden who leads Darden’s residential MBA program, will be the next dean of Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management. Steenburgh succeeds M. Eric Johnson, who announced last October that he would not serve beyond the end of his current term at the end of June.

An avid runner, Steenburgh is one of Darden’s most passionate teachers and a mentor to many younger professors at the school. It is not unusual for Steenburgh, who is the course head for the first-year MBA marketing course, to call meetings of the marketing faculty on weekends to plan in detail how Darden’s professors will teach a specific case in the upcoming week. Besides leading the full-time MBA experience, he is also the faculty chair for the strategic sales management program in executive education. No less important, he is heavily invested in a student-centered culture and one that profoundly values teaching as a means to cultivate self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth.


He was trained in the case study method of teaching at Harvard Business School where he was a tenure-track professor from 2003 to 2012 when he joined Darden. A master teacher at a school known for having the best MBA teaching faculty in the world, Steenburgh was named Faculty Marshal at Darden in 2021 and earned a Darden Multiyear Teaching Award and the Multiyear Publication Award in 2018.  Steenburgh has been a finalist in at least one other dean search at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business. He is the second head of the MBA program to leave for a deanship at Darden. Former Dean Professor Peter Rodriguez departed for Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business in 2016. Erika James, currently dean of the Wharton School, also had been at Darden before leaving for her first deanship at Emory’s Goizueta Business School.

Steenburgh was selected after a nationwide search by executive search firm Spencer Stuart. Chris Guthrie, dean of Vanderbilt Law School, chaired the search committee which included faculty members from several disciplines, Vanderbilt Board of Trust member and Owen alumnus Doug Parker, and a current Owen School student.

The university could not have selected a better candidate to lead Owen–and apparently knows it. “Tom Steenburgh is an innovative and rigorous scholar whose approaches to sales and marketing strategies have been canonized for their lasting pedagogical value and transformative real-world impact,” said C. Cybele Raver, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs in a statement. “Professor Steenburgh is a leading advocate for productive collaborations between the academic and business communities, a highly respected academic leader skilled at actualizing innovative ideas on behalf of faculty, and an ambitious thinker capable of catalyzing growth and executing large-scale change. He has what it takes to advance Owen’s national and global reputation and prepare its students for the shifting landscape of the digital business community.”


Steenburgh earned his Ph.D. in marketing from Yale University. Steenburgh earned his undergraduate degree from Boston University, followed by his master’s degree in statistics from the University of Michigan. After graduating from Michigan in 1992, Steenburgh joined the Xerox Corp. He returned to the academy and earned his doctorate at Yale University. 

He is a co-founder of the Thought Leadership on the Sales Profession Conference, which serves as a forum for discussion on contemporary issues in sales among leading academics and senior business leaders. The conference is a manifestation of Steenburgh’s belief that experts in academia and business should cross-pollinate ideas to solve real-world problems.

Steenburgh’s scholarship involves analyzing sales and marketing strategies and their effectiveness. He is the author of many case studies and has addressed issues ranging from lump-sum bonuses as a motivating factor for salespeople to how businesses manage their earnings. His Harvard Business Review article “Motivating Salespeople: What Really Works,” co-authored with Michael Ahearne, won the Wachovia Award for Research Aimed at the Practicing Manager, and the broad impact of his sales research was recognized with a Neil Rackham Research Dissemination Award. Steenburgh’s published research and case studies are featured in the curriculum of many of the world’s best business schools, including Harvard Business School, where he once served as a faculty member. 

“Tom Steenburgh excels at the qualities that will propel Owen into a new league of world-renowned business schools,” Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said. “He is a highly admired, ambitious leader, a renowned scholar and a generous cross-disciplinary collaborator with a track record of forging dynamic partnerships in pursuit of solutions to pressing real-world concerns. We sought a leader who would help Vanderbilt to create bold collaborations across Vanderbilt and with Nashville’s growing business community—and rapidly elevate Owen’s visibility on a global scale—and we have found that leader in Tom.”


Steenburgh is a member of the senior advisory board of the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management and an associate editor of the Journal of Business-to-Business Marketing. He sat on the editorial board of Marketing Science and is an ad hoc reviewer of academic articles published in other high-impact sales and marketing journals.  

“Vanderbilt exudes energy and enthusiasm and draws creative, talented and ambitious people from around the world,” Steenburgh said. “The opportunity to collaborate with an ambitious leadership team, including the provost and chancellor, faculty eager to maximize their impact in teaching and scholarship, and students and alumni with a passion for changing the world drew me to the position. I am thrilled to be joining an institution that wants to be on the cutting edge and build the university of the future. Given its thriving business community, Nashville provides an ideal location for Owen’s growth.” 

DON’T MISS: Exit Interview: Vanderbilt Dean Eric Johnson On The Future In Music City or End Of An Era At Vanderbilt Owen As Dean Eric Johnson Resigns

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