Skip Arny lives in Falls Church, Virginia and is a current second year student in Darden’s Executive MBA degree program. He recently completed a virtual global course focused on doing business in India and, several months ago, took a similar elective course focused on Finland and Estonia (in the photo above, he is getting ready to join a virtual Finland class session from Virginia Beach).  Skip has enjoyed a career in the Navy where he served in naval aviation squadrons, U.S. embassies, and senior executive staffs. While pursuing an MBA at Darden, Skip has directed foreign military sales for the Navy International Programs Office. He has leveraged Darden’s Career Development Center for his next career progression into leadership roles in business and the community.  Skip offered some reflections on his experiences with Darden’s global courses:

Could you share a little bit about how these virtual global courses worked?  What was it like to spend an intense week focused on business in a particular location online?

The virtual global courses are really a fantastic addition to the program. For me, each week-long virtual “trip” was conveniently nestled among my other concurrent, weeknight EMBA classes. A few weeks before each global course, our global director, Ms. Ladi Carr, and the faculty member leading the virtual course, provided a few tasks and many extra suggestions to prepare for the “trip”. For each of the global courses I attended (Finland/Estonia in August and India in January), we watched at least one very interesting movie on par with the best produced in Hollywood. For India, we individually ordered Indian food, reimbursed by Darden, and one of my classmates actually joined a virtual cooking class for Indian food. In addition, we prepared briefing papers and read about each country in detail covering topics relevant to business, such as historical context, economies, governance, innovation, and notable industries.

The one week of classes “in” each of the countries was every enjoyable and extremely educational. We met with various business professionals and many executives as the course spanned various sectors and to some degree, the country’s governments. To facilitate timing with our in-country speakers, our two daily sessions were in the mornings of that week. I suppose it as a good thing that by 10:30 each day, I was back on line with my office!

At the end of each course, we followed up researching business topics of interest and each wrote a paper. Many of us followed up with some of the speakers to dig deeper into a topic or establish a relationship for future collaboration or advice. Despite working and living in three countries outside the United States in the course of eight years, these shorter-than-normal EMBA courses were very enjoyable and extremely educational.

You’ve participated in two virtual courses with Darden now- India and Finland/Estonia.  What were a couple of highlights or key takeaways from each course?

We met really incredible people who are doing amazing things in various business sectors, non-profits and government. In Estonia, we met a former FIFA EuroCup soccer (football) player who is now a leader in an AI-focused robotics company, Cleveron, which supplies Walmart with its automated pickup centers. In India, most of our speakers were Darden alumni and company executives with amazing stories of their success. One exec regaled us with his lessons of introducing Taco Bell to 1.4 billion skeptical Indians, and then turning a near-failure to huge success by rebranding it with Indian interests and tastes.

Skip on a previous visit to Finland

How do you think what you learned in these courses will be helpful to you in the future?

I’ve had the opportunity to live and work overseas in military staffs and U.S. embassies. Darden’s recent global courses, despite being conducted over Zoom, exposed me to new cultures and innovative people who are working to make the world a better place, especially in business. I will apply the lessons from these two courses in my future endeavors in the private sector, where I am sure I will work foreign partners and customers.

I have actually been to Finland on two occasions, and those lengthy visits gave me deep insights into a couple of regions and Finnish friends I met there. Darden’s virtual course added a whole new layer to my understanding of Finland by educating me about the Finns’ resilient economy and by introducing me to centers of innovation which I would have never seen as a tourist or military visitor. My Finnish friends were impressed!

If it wasn’t for the coronavirus pandemic, these courses would have taken place in person, which would have been a very different experience. Were there any benefits to you in having them offered online instead?

Yes! I was not on the “Global” EMBA path, so to be honest, had these two elective courses not been virtual, I would not have attended due to my commitments at work and home. Under normal circumstances visiting in person with the class would be ideal, but each of the virtual trips lasted just a few hours each morning, and did not incur the extra costs of travel, lodging, dining and leave. We had the same time with the speakers who would have met us in-country, and according to those in my class who traveled before the pandemic to Brazil, the engagements with each speaker were longer and gave more time for questions. We didn’t have jet lag nor the slight pressure of holding to a timeline driven by bus movements between physical locations.

The virtual course to India highlighted how supportive the Darden team is when it comes to your education. Though I was not in the “Global” EMBA program, I still selected one of the four original global residencies to take part in, and I chose India because I had never been there yet appreciated its growing importance to U.S. business and global security. Like many, I was disappointed when UVA had to cancel travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, instead of giving up completely, some of us decided to ask Ms. Ladi Carr to put it back on virtually, especially after we had been happily surprised at the richness and depth of the virtual course in Finland and Estonia. Ladi and Marc Johnson contacted the Indian speakers who had been lined up for our planned trip in-person. I believe all of them supported her request, even though many were talking to us from India at later times in the day. It worked out very well, and it was only because students and staff said, “let’s do this!” That says a lot about Darden!

Any advice for someone thinking that an executive MBA program may be in their future?

If you have the resources and ability to go to Darden and participate in the Executive MBA program, you will be so much better educated and positioned for your personal path to more influential leadership and executive roles in business, government, non-profits and even politics. You will be surrounded by so many talented people. The faculty and Darden EMBA student classes are diverse in so many ways. Every student and graduate I have met is consistently enthusiastic about the experience. The professors and faculty are passionate about the program and making this the best MBA education in the country. They lead academia in research, teaching and administering, and to a person are very friendly and easy-going. You will be exposed to many important lessons in leadership, finance, operations, economics, trade, Diversity/Equity/Inclusion and communication, to name just a few core areas. As you progress, you have choices to match with your interests—such as these global trips, both live and virtual to other fascinating regions in the world. After nearly two years, you will leave with a top MBA education, great memories, a well-connected alumni network, and Darden friends and experts you can reach out to any time. Go for it! You will never regret your decision!