The Magic of Darden's Master Professors

Darden Professor Yiorgos Allayannis whirls through the classroom as he pushes and challenges the MBA students in his oversubscribed elective course, "Financial Institutions and Markets," to take a stand. "To bail out or not to bail out?" he booms, referring to the 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. He calls the students by name and lobs one question after another into the tiered classroom.
Professor Yiorgos Allayannis
"He moves around like a human tornado," wrote John Byrne, the editor-in-chief of Poets & Quants, in the article "Darden: Where Great Teachers Are Gods," also published by CNNMoney and Fortune under the title "What Makes a Master B-School Professor?"

The article goes inside Allayannis' classroom to discover the magic of Darden’s superstar teachers. Why, Byrne asked, in BusinessWeek's (now Bloomberg Businessweek's) survey of graduating MBAs, conducted every other year for the past 24 years, have students consistently ranked Darden professors as the world’s best?

Buckle In

"From the first class on the first day, I felt like I needed a seat belt and goggles," said MBA for Executives graduate Catherine Sewell (EMBA '12), a clinical science liaison at the biopharmaceutical company Celgene Corporation.  

Top professors teach their subjects clearly and compellingly. They bring energy and excitement to case discussions. And they work hard to create the tight-knit community for which Darden is so well-known.

"There aren’t many business schools where you can get to know all of your classmates or where professors invite students over for dinner," said Andrew Crowley (MBA ’11), "And that’s not unusual here."

From One Generation to the Next

Creating an exhilarating classroom experience is core to the case method. And tricks of the trade are passed down from one generation of Darden faculty members to the next.

"The social good at Darden is teaching," Jim Freeland, senior associate dean for faculty and research, told Poets & Quants. "When you walk down the halls and see the faculty talking, there’s a good chance they’re talking about teaching." Darden’s more experienced professors mentor and guide new faculty members. They observe each other’s classes and offer feedback.

For instance, when Allayannis was a new professor, Darden's Dean Bob Bruner — considered a master case teacher in finance — attended some of his classes. "The biggest piece of advice I received was when he showed me all the questions I had asked in the class,” said Allayannis. "'You see these questions,' he said. 'You asked what, what, what and what. Your first how question was asked almost an hour into the case.' It was tremendous feedback. It took three years, I would say, to get to a level where I felt things were clicking."

Academic Triathletes

While Darden teachers excel at teaching, success in the classroom is only one piece of their three-tiered job. Like elite triathletes, professors must also develop course materials and publish groundbreaking research.

Through Darden’s robust research environment, anchored by nine research Centers of Excellence, professors create knowledge, new models and ideas that advance managerial practice and pedagogical excellence. Their findings and solutions for the practitioner help leaders — including the School’s graduates, clients and partners — get ready to lead across multiple continents and cultures and face any business challenge. Their new ideas change the way the world does business.

Many schools base their faculty hires almost exclusively on research. And for good reason. Research and publication in scholarly journals influences several of the major media rankings, which can lift a brand.

"Research and thought leadership are vital," said Bruner. "But so is teaching excellence. We don’t sit on a two-legged stool at Darden; exceptional teaching skills are not a 'nice-to-have.' Teaching our students and developing them into principled leaders is our mission — our core — and a point of real differentiation for Darden."

The word is getting out. A 1999 Darden MBA graduate who went to Wharton as an undergraduate student commented on Poets & Quants: "Darden is about teaching and community. Every one of the professors cares deeply about the school and community and making sure that the students have a tremendous experience in their two years in C’ville."

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