In Memoriam: UVA Darden Professor Emeritus Leslie E. Grayson

By David Buie-Moltz

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business mourns the loss of Professor Emeritus Leslie E. Grayson, a distinguished professor who not only shaped the School’s international presence but also left an indelible mark on generations of students. Grayson passed away on 24 January in New York City at the age of 96, leaving behind a legacy of academic excellence, global exploration and heartfelt mentorship.

Grayson’s family is in the process of organizing a memorial service. This story will be updated with further details as they become available.

"Les loved Darden, our students and the opportunity to be part of the community for so many years."
Dean Scott Beardsley

Born in Hungary and educated at Oberlin College and the University of Michigan, Grayson’s global journey to becoming the Isidore Horween Emeritus Research Professor of International Management at Darden was reflected in the curriculum he championed. Before joining Darden in 1971, he taught at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University and Harvard University, worked for the Caltex Oil Corporation overseas and contributed to the Harvard Institute for International Development in Ghana.

Recruited by Dean Charles Abbott from Harvard Business School, Grayson was instrumental in developing Darden’s international business education, introducing students to a world beyond the American borders through his popular elective courses in international business. His commitment to global engagement was not just theoretical; Grayson traveled extensively to develop opportunities for Darden students and recruit international talent to the School.

Dean Scott Beardsley, in a note to faculty and staff, remembered Grayson as someone who “loved Darden, our students and the opportunity to be part of the community.” Beardsley’s words echo the sentiments of many who knew Grayson, highlighting his and his wife Olivia’s deep involvement in the Darden community.

Grayson’s influence extended beyond the classroom. As the director of the Tayloe Murphy International Business Studies Center, he played a critical role in linking Virginia companies with overseas markets, thereby enhancing the state’s global trade footprint. In the 1980’s, the Darden Black Business Student Association elected Grayson as their faculty advisor, and he helped the School accelerate its minority-student recruiting efforts.

"One of the most insouciant wits of the faculty."
Dean Emeritus Bob Bruner on Les Grayson

Throughout his tenure and even after his retirement in 2003, Grayson continued to contribute significantly to the Darden community. He remained actively involved in Darden Business Publishing, writing or co-writing numerous case studies on organizations such as Euro Disney and Mercedes-Benz. These cases have not only enriched the School’s curriculum but have also provided invaluable real-world insights to students.

Grayson also played a pivotal role in the School’s ongoing global efforts after retirement. His work for The Executive Program further underscored his dedication to executive education and his belief in the transformative power of learning. His efforts helped the program to evolve and stay relevant in the changing landscape of global business education.

Alumni testimonials reflect the profound impact Grayson had on their careers and lives. Nic Labuschagne (MBA ’89), Ro and Martin King (MBA ’91) and Scott Price (MBA/MA ’90), among others, shared stories of how Grayson’s mentorship and global perspective inspired them to pursue careers that span continents and cultures.

Dean Emeritus Bob Bruner remembered Grayson in a 2007 blog post as “one of the most insouciant wits of the faculty,” a testament to the sharp intellect and sense of humor which made Grayson a beloved figure at Darden and beyond.

Professor Emeritus Leslie E. Grayson and Professor Ming-Jer Chen, who holds the professorship named in his honor, in 2018. (Photo by Susan Wormington)

Grayson’s contributions to making Darden a more global institution were recognized through various honors, including a professorship named in his honor, currently held by Professor Ming-Jer Chen, and a white oak in the Arboretum and LaCross Botanical Gardens. These tributes symbolize his lasting influence on the School and its commitment to global education.

He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Olivia Grayson; two daughters: Carol Grayson and Judy Grayson; three granddaughters, Julia Hamilton, Katie Hamilton and Alex Grayson; and his son-in-law Peter Roberto.

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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