UVA Darden Professor Bob Conroy Helped Finance Students See Beyond the Spreadsheet for More Than Three Decades
By Dave Hendrick
When Professor Bob Conroy was weighing a job offer from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business more than three decades ago, he was struck by the unity of purpose among the faculty and staff, the sense that everyone was on the same page.
“Everyone I talked to all knew what the School was trying to do. There was a sense that this was a place where you could come and be involved in something bigger than you,” said Conroy. “Everyone wanted to create a transformational experience for the students.”
Conroy, who will retire from full-time teaching at the end of the academic year, took up the mantle of student centricity upon joining the Darden faculty as a professor in the Finance area in 1988. In addition to leading generations of students from all backgrounds through the finer points of valuation and capital management, Conroy helped shape the direction of the School through multiple stints leading the MBA program as associate dean, and led key steps to grow international programs and coursework at the School.
Coming to the School at the same time as fellow finance professors Ken Eades and Bob Harris, Conroy recalled being mentored in the case method by Professor Bob Bruner and realizing that the case method’s true purpose was to serve as a framework for getting students involved in the discussion.
“The big thing is helping them understand the context, and what you need to know to make a decision,” said Conroy. “Trying to help them understand how it all fits together is what I find most rewarding.”
Conroy, whose doctorate was in quantitative analysis and finance, knew most Darden graduates would not go into pure finance roles after graduation, but with a Darden education, they could understand the role finance played in organizational decision-making. The important thing is to see the big picture beyond the numbers on a spreadsheet.
“That’s what is valuable about a Darden degree — we strive to give students a holistic view of the firm,” said Conroy. “We’ll talk in finance about an operations decision, and you have to decide: How is that going to affect the value of the firm? What are the financing implications of the decision?”
Conroy recalled an early MBA class with an opera singer-turned-MBA student with no previous finance experience. Seeing it all come together for that student is “what it’s all about,” said Conroy.
Conroy said his multiple stints as associate dean of the MBA program were typically born out of a desire to help the students and his faculty peers. His record of accomplishment in leadership roles included establishing exchange programs and global programs as international studies coordinator, bringing key elements of coursework and materials online for the first time, and helping to establish the Executive MBA program in the mid-2000s.
‘We’re Going to Do This’: Launching the Executive MBA
In 2021, the Executive MBA program works exceptionally well with several consecutive years of new enrollment records. However, at the beginning of the program, it was not at all clear to the faculty how to translate the residential format into an executive format with weekend residencies and online sessions, Conroy said.
“The group of faculty just got together and said, ‘We’re going to do this’,” recalled Conroy. “People worked together to make it work. And that’s the epitome of what I like about Darden: the idea of, this is what we’re going to do, and we’re going to cooperate and do it for the good of the students and the good of the School.”
Conroy said there is a similar ethos in The Executive Program, where individual faculty evaluations were eschewed in favor of overall program evaluations. The point was to measure the whole experience of Darden Executive Education & Lifelong Learning’s flagship program for senior leaders.
“That spirit of service, the idea that we’re in it for the students and it’s not about how you do individually, that’s still true today,” said Conroy. “Everybody works together to get the best results for the students.”
Conroy, whose last class was delivered virtually to the Class of 2022 students in the Executive MBA program, said it wasn’t the way one necessarily hoped to bookend a career, but lauded the partnership and commitment from his last class.
“One of the great joys of teaching at Darden is that personal interaction. You don’t have that same relationship with students when they’re online and you don’t have the same touchpoints with them,” said Conroy. “But I have to say, if I had to have a last class that was online, I could not ask for a better group to work with.”
A ‘Life-Changing Professor’
After news of Conway’s final class was posted on social media, thanks and congratulations poured in from colleagues and former students.
“For me, Bob was a life-changing professor and mentor, full stop,” wrote one.
“When I entered Darden, I had a spark of interest in finance and strategy,” wrote another former student. “You contributed lighter fluid to my intellectual spark.”
“One of the most invested professors I’ve ever had,” said another.
A general theme: Students remembered a professor who cared about their progress and met them where they were to help them get to where they needed to be.
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.
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