The University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration has long had a fearsome reputation for putting MBA students through a tough, two-year curriculum that produces some of the best management talent in the nation.

Anyone who has attended or even visited the school can attest, however, that Darden has a pleasant side as well. Alumni say they love the program for the strong sense of community and lifelong friendships that develop among students, as well as for the excellent business training and exciting intellectual environment they find there.

Darden is also praised as a good choice for students with families. The Darden community has a strong reputation for being family-friendly and attentive to the concerns of students’ spouses and children. Charlottesville, a small, pleasant college community nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offers sophisticated amenities and cultural life and easy access to year-round outdoor activities.

Here is our September 2005 interview with Everette Fortner, Interim Director of Admissions and Director of Career Development at Darden.

Everette, congratulations on your new role. How will your experience in Career Development influence the admissions process?

Here at Darden, we describe ourselves as a “market-facing” MBA program. If you are market-facing, then you are constantly talking with recruiters and business executives to understand what they need in their MBA talent, and you design parts of your MBA program to meet those needs.

Like any manufacturing process, you have to have the right raw material. By connecting admissions to career services, we are making one continuous pipeline to produce successful MBA graduates. Managing the entire pipeline is very interesting to us, and we are trying this approach at least on an interim basis.

Of course, the profile of our target student has not changed. We are still looking for well-rounded, talented individuals.

What changes are occurring at Darden right now?

The most exciting thing is that we have a new dean, Robert Bruner. He was actually my finance professor in 1987 when I went to Darden. He knows the school very well, and he is totally energizing all of our key constituents. It is wonderful to see someone at our helm who knows the school, loves the school, and wants the school to continue to develop and improve. He is everywhere! Meeting with alumni and connecting with prospective students are a priority for him. Our faculty members are energized because he is saying, “Here is a vision for Darden’s future.”

Another big happening right now is the kickoff of our 50th anniversary celebration. Our two-year long celebration will include events in 40 cities and on three continents. We produced an hour-long history documentary and a gorgeous coffee table book to commemorate this special anniversary. We just watched the film. It has great pictures and video of some of our founding fathers. The things that were important to our founding fathers are the same things that still make our school unique.

Charlie Abbott, the first dean of Darden, focused on having general managers with an enterprise perspective. That meant grounding students in fundamentals and training them in accounting, finance, marketing, and operations – but with an understanding of general management. We do this 100% through the case method, and that is important to recruiters. In the two years that you are at Darden, you will face over 500 ambiguous and different situations.

Our founding fathers also put a stake in the ground on teaching ethics. We have a strong tradition in our honor system. In the past eight to ten years, we have become very well-known for how our students approach ethical decision-making. Last year Darden was selected to house the Business Roundtable for Corporate Ethics, a group of Fortune 100 executives who meet to promote ethical decision making in business.

Another tradition here at Darden is that at 9:30 every morning, our faculty and students – about 300 people total – gather in the PepsiCo Forum to have coffee, which is exactly the same schedule they had 50 years ago. It is this close connection with faculty, students, alumni, and staff that sets Darden apart.

One of Darden’s advantages is the concept of “Ideas into Action” – the commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation. How does this impact students?

“Ideas into Action” is the concept of strengthening our generation of intellectual capital. Entrepreneurship and innovation comprise one of the key areas that Dean Bruner has identified as centers of intellectual capital.

Several years ago, Frank Batten, the retired Chairman and CEO of Landmark Communications and founder of the Weather Channel, endowed us with a $60,000,000 gift to focus on entrepreneurship and corporate innovation. That is where Darden has produced a lot of research. We have a Batten Venture Internship Program to help fund summer internships and 15 to 20 start-up or portfolio-type companies. We also have a Darden incubator funded by the Batten Institute which helps students start their own companies.

While entrepreneurship is one area of focus, Dean Bruner has asked the faculty and alumni to identify others which Darden might support, including perhaps capital formation, transformational leadership, and the extended enterprise.

 

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