Lem Lewis Award Recipient: ‘I Knew I Wanted to Be in a Position of Service to Greater Society’

By Dave Hendrick

Franklin “Tre” Tennyson, III came to the University of Virginia Darden School of Business with a lengthy, global resume, an enthusiasm for leadership roles and a desire to eventually transition to elected office.

A fitting recipient, then, of one of Darden’s most prestigious awards: the Lemuel E. Lewis Bicentennial Award for Global Leadership, a scholarship award made possible by a philanthropic gift from Lem Lewis (MBA ’72 ), a member of the Darden Foundation Board of Trustees and a Principal Donor to the School.

A University of Virginia undergraduate, Tennyson taught fifth grade in Atlanta with Teach for America before moving to Shenzhen, China, for nearly four years, where he both taught and worked in business development for a private school group. He then attended Harvard University for a master’s in education policy and management before setting his sights on Darden, a school he said he knew well from a cappella performances across Grounds in his undergraduate days.

“I had a background in education, but I knew if I wanted to be in a position of service to greater society, I would also need to have a robust understanding of markets, the economy, as well as money and how it moves,” said Tennyson, a Richmond, Virginia, native. “I knew the best place to get that education would be at a business school, and what better business school than my home?”

As he has done throughout his academic and professional career, Tennyson also pursued leadership opportunities outside of the classroom at Darden, and he currently serves as chair of the UVA Graduate and Professional Council and as one of the student representatives on Darden’s Racial Equity and Inclusion Working Group, among other roles.

“I’m a UVA student through and through. When you come to UVA, the principles and importance of student self-governance are made clear from Day One, and in that I see this idea that your agency, your ideas and your labor will directly result in the environment you have around you,” said Tennyson, who also served on the pan-University committee considering the safe reopening of Grounds in fall. “It’s wonderful to help make things happen.”

In his application for the competitive global leadership award, which is ultimately determined by a group of Darden students and faculty, Tennyson said he spoke about his personal ambition and methods for bringing people together toward a common goal, but also his years spent in China, and what he learned from spending nearly a month wrongfully imprisoned as a result of an extortion scheme carried out by local police.

“That was an extreme lesson about what power means, especially in a situation where a group of people have full control over what happens to me,” said Tennyson. “In that moment, I made a promise to myself that I will never be in a position where I cannot check someone else’s power. It is my responsibility to make sure I have enough influence to protect myself — but also to protect others.”

Tennyson spent the summer interning with JP Morgan Chase — remotely, due to the coronavirus — an experience Tennyson called “excellent.” Rather than eliminate the networking aspects that are key to summer internships, Tennyson said the virtual pivot meant you were frequently connecting throughout the company. In fact, toward the end of his internship, Tennyson was asked to moderate a company-wide discussion with the CEO of J.P. Morgan Asset and Wealth Management Mary Erdoes.

“You can’t ask for better than that,” said Tennyson.

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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