The Darden School hosted the Inaugural Global Leadership Forum from 11-13 May in Shanghai, China. The weekend of events included meetings of the Global Advisory Council, events for Darden alumni and current Global MBA for Executives (GEMBA) students, and prospective and newly admitted students. Peter Rodriguez, senior associate dean for degree programs and chief diversity officer and a faculty member in the Global Economies and Markets area sent his reflections from the first day:

Through a clear mind Shanghai is a visual feast of modernity and urban hyperactivity. Seeing it through the mind fog that follows the long flight over, it’s a dreamy, endless buzz of never-ending cityscapes and lights. Arriving on Thursday just before Darden’s first, but not last, Global Leadership Forum I’m struggling to stay awake just long enough to be clear-headed tomorrow when I get to re-connect with our GEMBA students and start all the fun.

The math for an evening reception and dinner doesn’t really work if you’re up at 2am, but there is just no fighting it and staying in bed feels so terribly unproductive after a while. Still, it’s awesome to be the first one in the gym and have all the equipment to yourself. I hit the speed bag without ever gaining the rhythm and strike a few Yoga stretches I wouldn’t with an audience. Turns out, the place is covered in mirrors and I shouldn’t try them alone either. After a few hours of emails to pay dues for 16 hours without being on the Internet I’m downstairs for Breakfast. It’s a feast of morning meals from the East and West, and I load-up accordingly. And then, it happens.

Across the lush spread of fresh cut fruit and pastries the faces and silhouettes begin to seem very familiar. A few busy GEMBA students, cases in hand, say hello, followed by my faculty friends and Darden colleagues I’m used to seeing every Tuesday afternoon. Then, an alum from Indonesia and his wife, a couple from Singapore, another from the Philippines and the Hong Kong crew. On my right at the omelet bar I can see that Perth is in the house, so are London, New York, Tokyo and Geneva. From a distance I can see a couple of section D alums from Beijing are at the smoothie bar. Les Grayson, professor emeritus and our global patriarch, and his lovely wife Olivia are catching-up with friends over coffee and, oddly, it seems normal and abnormal at the same time.

It’s as if my Facebook homepage is suddenly real and all those faces and updates from far away places have converged into a real, not virtual, breakfast. We’re not supposed to be together in real life, but we are and it’s impossible not to smile through it all. Reflecting in the moment it’s wonderful to notice the tacit connection across this diverse group. It all goes back to those cases, classes and cold calls, first coffees and the Corner and the rapid-fire stretch, struggle and triumphs of Darden. I can see it in the eyes and smiles though no one needs to say it. We’re beginning something important today by continuing something that’s been important to all us for a long time, and it seems just right.

– Peter Rodriguez