Capital Idea: UVA Darden Expands Washington DC Area Presence

By Dave Hendrick

It’s just an initial step, but one that could lead to an outsized impact.

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business is planting its flag in the global gateway of Washington, D.C., bringing its Executive MBA to the area and laying the groundwork for deeper engagement with the region.

The move plunges Darden into the nation’s capital region at a dynamic time, and will ultimately take advantage of the School’s largest alumni base, its deep ties to the government and public policy ecosystem, the region’s entrepreneurial community, and the proximity between Darden and Washington, D.C. It also underscores how Darden continues to foster an expansive global vision for the School while strengthening bonds with an influential region just two hours north of Charlottesville.

“We’re about 100 miles away from a key global gateway and what is arguably the world center for political, social and business thought leadership,” said Dean Scott Beardsley. “As a business school with a charge to develop the next generation of globally minded, world-changing leaders, it just makes sense to take advantage of this incredible good fortune of proximity.”

Executive MBA Comes to DC

This August, a new group of Darden students will step into the classroom for the first time, excited and nervous about the transformational personal and professional journey on which they are about to embark.

The class will be like many that have gone before them, a diverse group soon to be united for life by the shared Darden experience.

The students in this particular Executive MBA cohort will also be unlike any section that has gone before them, however, as the first Darden students to be based in the Washington, D.C., area, attending classes in the Waterview building in Rosslyn, Virginia.

Waterview Building, Washington, D.C.

For Professor Ron Wilcox, Darden’s senior associate dean for degree programs, much of the rationale behind the expansion of the program’s reach is straightforward: many talented people are now clustered in the Washington, D.C., area.

“If you think about the places in the U.S. where talented people tend to go in disproportional amounts — places like New York and Silicon Valley — D.C. is a big magnet,” Wilcox said. “If you believe that, in many ways, Darden’s destiny lies in the number of talented people whose lives we’re able to help shape, then it makes eminent sense for us to be in a place where there are lots of talented people.”

While fully expecting to mine the deep well of talent in the D.C. area, the program’s designers have scheduled classes in such a way that students from nearby metropolitan areas should be able to attend monthly Friday to Sunday residencies with limited disruption to their professional lives.

Although establishing a physical location in the D.C. area was a critical component, Wilcox said proximity alone was not going to be enough to guarantee success or sufficiently advance Darden’s goals.

Indeed, Wilcox said the Executive MBA team’s overriding charge was to “design a program that a lot of people want to take.”

To that end, the Executive MBA is being reborn in a more customizable, global and appealing format.

Beginning with the Class of 2018, students entering the Executive MBA will choose the D.C. area or Charlottesville, Virginia, as their base learning location, and opt for the traditional MBA for Executives (EMBA) or more globally intensive Global MBA for Executives (GEMBA) track. EMBA students will pick at least one global residency, and all students will have the opportunity to participate in an expanded list of Global Business Experiences, Global Consulting Projects and electives. For the first time, loans will also be available to international students seeking to join a Darden executive format.

Taken together, the actions represent both a dramatic expansion of the global footprint of the Executive MBA format and plant a clear flag in the global gateway of the D.C. market.

Wilcox, who called the move to the D.C. area the “biggest and most exciting thing” he’s been involved in during his time shepherding the EMBA format, said he had little doubt that the move would represent a win for both students and Darden in the short and long term.

“We are rightly protective of our MBA program and our student experience and so we’re conservative with respect to changing any aspect of it,” Wilcox said. “So when we get something like this that is a true, big innovation, it’s very exciting. The students are going to love it; there’s just no doubt in my mind.”

DC Area Activity Continues Across Darden

While Darden coming to the D.C. area in a physical fashion is a notable culmination of years of careful study, it’s far from the only iron in the capital region’s fire. Indeed, the ties between the School and the area are longstanding, strong and deep.

Through the generosity of Frank Sands Sr. (MBA ’63) and Frank Sands Jr. (MBA ’94), Darden maintains space at the Sands Capital Management offices in Rosslyn, nearby the Waterview

classroom space, for a variety of Executive Education programs such as the pre-MBA Darden Business Institute. Research centers such as the Institute for Business in Society and the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation have also forged relationships with key partners in the area. For instance:

  • Batten maintains a relationship with the startup incubator 1776 — offering workspace for Darden-supported entrepreneurs in the District and co-hosting events throughout the year. It also held its Innovators’ Roundtable event with senior innovation executives in April and co-hosted an entrepreneurship research conference with the University of Cambridge Judge Business School in May.
  • The Institute for Business in Society continues to burnish its thought leadership through events in the area such as gathering executive thought leaders for CFO Roundtables, its partnership with the U.S. State Department and Concordia for the P3 Impact Award, and the Tri-Sector Leadership Fellows Program, among other initiatives.
  • Executive Education offers an expanding suite of courses in the area, and maintains strong ties to the military community in the region through its nearly 40-year history developing courses with the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Army.

Professor Greg Fairchild has also been named associate dean for the Washington, D.C., area and academic director of public policy and entrepreneurship. Fairchild serves as a liaison and ambassador for Darden in the D.C. area as well as the administrator of Darden’s Rosslyn office.

District of Darden Grads

Perhaps the biggest built-in advantage for Darden’s continued expansion can be seen via the well-worn path alumni have made from Charlottesville to the D.C. area, as the region is the metro area with the single largest concentration of both UVA and Darden alumni, with about 36,000 and 1,500, respectively.

Abby Ruiz de Gamboa (MBA ’04), the former co-president of Darden’s D.C. alumni chapter and a member of the Darden Alumni Association Board of Directors, said D.C.-area alumni congregate in large numbers for events ranging from jazz at the National Gallery of Art to networking events with admitted students, but avenues for additional engagement remain.

“While the D.C. chapter has always been highly engaged with Darden, there is still more opportunity to take advantage of the strength of our alumni base in this area,” said Ruiz de Gamboa, a partner at Deloitte. “I think bringing the School to the area is a good starting point.”

Ruiz de Gamboa said she hoped Darden could “continue to capitalize” on the current energy in Washington, D.C., a city that is booming in a number of ways. The Darden grad said she had been heartened to see new alumni interested in engaging on many fronts. This includes networking and lifelong learning, as well as a new initiative to launch the D.C. Women’s Scholarship Fund, which seeks to raise funds for deserving D.C.-area women and create a “community and culture around bringing more top female talent to Darden.”

Said Ruiz de Gamboa: “People are coming out of the woodwork who want to be engaged, and there are new opportunities for engagement. So we have to keep making those connections.”

The opportunities for engagement seem likely to only increase as the opportunities for Darden graduates proliferate.

Kristin Gunther (MBA ’09) came to the area with her Darden-grad husband, Matt (MBA ’10), to work in private equity and venture funding. The company she works for, Revolution Growth, has found ample opportunities for investment in companies born out of the vibrant D.C.-area startup scene.

“D.C. is a great place for young companies to be given proximity to policymakers and access to universities, law firms, et cetera,” said Gunther. “The addition of incubators like 1776 has raised the profile of local startups and shows there’s enough entrepreneurial energy here to warrant a real infrastructure.”

Gunther said the expansion of Darden into the area was a logical move for the School as it seeks to further tap the region’s capabilities.

“Most people in D.C., at least in my world, have respect for the Darden name, but having a physical presence here can only strengthen Darden’s visibility among prospective students and employers,” Gunther said.  “I expect the move will raise the already high bar for the Executive MBA, and that’s also great for everyone.”

Learn more about Darden’s activities and upcoming events in the D.C. area.

Professor Ron Wilcox leads a session in Darden's Waterview classroom facility.
The view of Washington, D.C., seen from Darden's Rosslyn, Virginia, facilities.
A view of the Rosslyn, Virginia, skyline across the Potomac River.
Darden's Waterview classroom in Rosslyn, Virginia.
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About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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