As graduation approaches, we asked members of the EMBA and GEMBA Classes of 2017 to share their thoughts on the Darden experience. Below you will find reflections from two GEMBA students. You can find the EMBA reflections here.
I decided to spend the day after our last class walking around Darden, and UVA grounds, with my best friend (who deserves an honorary degree for all his support during the program). I showed him our classrooms, the art on the walls, the Abbott Dining center, the Rotunda, and the Lawn. I felt so proud to tell him that on May 21st, I’ll graduate from Darden and UVA. It is an amazing feeling to be part of the Darden community, to walk the hallways that amazing people have walked and will walk.
I still remember my first day of class 21 months ago (which was also my birthday). I was eager, excited, and ready for the adventure. But I was also skeptical about the amazing journey everybody described. I remember talking to a dear mentor, and Darden alum, when I was looking for a place to get my MBA. I will never forget her words: “Darden was a transformational experience for me”. I had read a lot about Darden, the accolades, the rankings, the amazing Faculty, and I had attended three classes to experience the case method; still… I was skeptical. I was expecting a great education, but transformational seemed like a marketing word. As I walked the beautiful corridors at Darden towards Jefferson’s statue enjoying the breeze of a beautiful spring morning in Charlottesville after that last class, I realized I am a different person. My experience was indeed transformational.
Over the last 21 months I’ve learned everything I wanted to learn about business and numbers. I’ve learned 100 Excel and how to use Finance and Accounting to analyze a corporation or a project. I’ve also learned the about the complexity of Operations, and I can read the Wall Street Journal and the Economist and understand what’s going on. I can dive into a Corporation’s Annual Report and see beyond the basics. But most importantly, I discovered my passion for Decision Analysis and its application to everything business. This revelation led me to make a big shift at work, which has brought joy and immense personal and professional satisfaction. It’s the job I would do even if I didn’t get paid to do it.
Darden exceeded my expectations. The global program exposed me to different cultures and perspectives. I’ve learned the importance of seeing people as people (sounds like a basic concept but it’s incredible how often we see others as pieces of a puzzle), and how all cultures (including those of organizations) are “flat and lumpy”. When I changed roles, I realized that I had the tools to understand my new organizational culture. Many things were the same (flat) but others were not (lumpy). The art to navigating these twin realities is to become a cultural chameleon without losing who we are in the process. However, this concept goes beyond the organization. During our Leadership classes, we talked about the importance of learning some history to better understand culture. I’ve tried to apply that to my day to day, as a friend, a coworker, and a leader. I try to go beyond the superficial to truly understand each and every person with whom interact. This approach has allowed me see people as they are, to understand their objectives, and to appreciate what they bring to the table. In short, I’m a better leader, professional, and person because of everything I learned during the last 21 months.
I can talk for hours, and I’m happy to do so, about the experiences and lessons I’ve learned. But I also want to mention the fun. And the fun comes in the form of my classmates. I love my classmates, and I know we will be friends for life. I know I have the “six people we all need in our corners”. In fact, I have 29. I can’t even believe how much we’ve laughed together. We supported each other through countless cold calls, studied together until late at night, developed our own language to make fun of ourselves, and shared some beers around the world (well, wine in Paris). We explored the world together and supported each other when we got sick. We saw each other become a better version of ourselves.
My long walk around Darden finished in front of our pictures. I told my best friend. “These are my classmates. They are my friends and my family.” We talked about each one of them and what made them great. I know that I can pick up the phone and they will be there. I know the faculty will be there. I know Darden alumni network will be there.
That’s how I felt in 2015 when I applied to join Darden’s GEMBA program. I’m not going to lie; I did not know what awaited me if I was honored with admission to this prestigious school. I only knew that it would be a journey worth taking.
I got the call that changed my life on my birthday.
Nearly two years later, I see the world differently. I’m in possession of skills that were previously unknown to me. I’m friends with people I never would have met otherwise and I’m part of a larger Darden family that spreads out from Charlottesville to São Paulo to San Francisco to Shanghai to Delhi to Paris and back again. I’d seen the world before. But I’d never seen it like this.
It all started with Thomas Jefferson, the intellectual visionary and foundational rock upon with the University of Virginia and, by extension, Darden School of Business is built upon. His spirit of boundless curiosity lives on through the school and fuels our drive to explore the world.
You would think that learning about economics, finance, accounting, decision analysis, marketing, operations, strategy, entrepreneurship and leadership from faculty who have lived the curriculum would be enough for a complete education. With GEMBA, however, you get more than you bargained for.
Theory and discussion are starting points. Talking with the president of Coca-Cola India in Delhi, McKinsey’s chairman for Latin America in São Paulo and the chief economist for the People’s Bank of China in Beijing, however, is an education without peer.
How do we meet the world and see it for what it is? How do we accept it, work with it and add value to it? These questions are best answered face-to-face with the reality of Mumbai and Shanghai. These questions are best answered on the Embraer factory floor in Brazil. These questions are best answered in a discussion about the business of luxury with executives at the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris. You will come out the other side of this education with a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing global executives. You will be better equipped to succeed.
I can’t promise that you’ll have my GEMBA experience – let’s not talk about what happened in Lapa – but I can promise that you will have an experience that is without parallel. Enjoy.