Darden’s First GEMBA Graduates Describe the Transformation From Top Business Performers to Global Leaders

24 May 2013

It was the same world-class educational experience, only portable.
The first graduating class of the Global MBA for Executives (GEMBA) program at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business learned from the School’s top-ranked faculty while traveling through six countries over 21 months.

In 2011, Darden launched its GEMBA program with a desire to transform top business performers into global leaders. Course designers took an innovative and deliberate approach to crafting a combination of online, distance learning sessions and on-the-ground international experiences with Darden faculty. Over time, they were able to fine-tune GEMBA’s offerings to effectively balance and match the right teaching materials with the right locations.

“There are two aspects to the learning dynamic within the classroom that faculty members put together. First, the case method is a very helpful style for someone like me. It really aids learning,” said Lewis Prebble (GEMBA ’13), a vice president for Rolls-Royce who manages the company’s business relationship with Bombardier Aerospace.

The case method, a hallmark of the Darden experience, requires the use of case studies based on real-world business challenges. Using the Socratic method, Darden faculty members pose tough questions about the case scenarios, inviting students to think critically and develop meaningful solutions.

“Faculty members walk through a case, challenge the class together to really come to a conclusion and take away key learning points,” Prebble added. “Second: It’s important that faculty travel with you. So any case explored in a particular country has the chance to become a living thing and then be enhanced by the faculty.”

Prebble also pointed out that faculty members often join forces to create a multi-disciplinary view of a problem.

“Since we’re on location together, we might as well work together,” said Professor Yiorgos Allayannis, associate dean of Darden’s Global MBA for Executives Program.

“I asked Professor Andy Wicks, a business ethics colleague, to work with me on a case about a global bank. Together, we could look at the bank from two very different perspectives,” Allayannis said. “For example, what’s the role of banks in society, what should they do and are there some stakeholders benefitting if the bank takes a decision one direction versus another?”

This type of collaboration also happens on Darden’s Grounds, and it’s just as powerful when two or more minds team up abroad, according to Allayannis.

Prebble’s cohort traveled to Brazil, Western Europe, China, India and the United States. Each two-week experience was composed of intense learning, field visits to various companies and cultural activities.

“The field trips offer the opportunity to visit factory environments and manufacturing plants. They are a key part of those international residencies,” said Prebble. “On top of that, we complement the field trips with cultural learning, which is really the color and perspective that’s needed to bring home the business experience.”

“In the GEMBA program, I think there’s a multiplier effect,” said Allayannis, who also teaches “Financial Management and Policies” during the Brazil and Western Europe residencies and a cross-functional, integrated course called “Understanding Global Markets” during the first term.

“Once you are in one location, you hone in on what’s important and unique for that location, but also, you notice something that you have seen before.”

According to Allayannis, this helps participants become keenly aware of the global elements of doing business that are true everywhere. In addition, GEMBA participants receive a quick return on their investment.

“The biggest challenge for me during my time in the program was that I took on a new role within my company. The opportunity I had from that was to take some of the leadership practices I was learning in GEMBA and immediately apply them,” Prebble said. “I had a new team and the chance to shape that team. Darden gave me some really good tools to take on that process.”

The members of GEMBA’s inaugural class also found that the spirit of Darden’s tight-knit community can also be transported around the globe.

Throughout the travel, jetlag, unfamiliar environments and, according to Prebble, “culture shock in certain instances,” the inaugural GEMBA cohort not only paved a way for others to follow, but they also leaned on each other throughout the experience.

“Over the two years, we spent a tremendous amount of time together and created a strong bond. I look forward to holding those people as friends for the rest of my life. We all feel the same,” said Prebble. “We benefitted as pioneers and hopefully we’ve forged a path that many others will follow and enjoy,” Prebble added.

As the first graduating class of GEMBA walked down the Lawn of the University of Virginia for Commencement Exercises, the second class packed its bags and adjusted its clocks, with the same goal of becoming global business leaders.

Watch 2013 GEMBA graduation speaker Marcus Cunningham deliver remarks. Listen to Class of 2014 GEMBA participant Tahmina Nurova discuss why she chose Darden’s GEMBA program.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Press Contact

Sophie Zunz
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia