Great students and faculty fuel a “self-reinforcing cycle” of growth, excellence, innovation and influence at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia.
Bob Bruner, the business school’s dean, said the challenge for Darden’s next leader will be to sustain that cycle while being mindful of the changes and challenges facing today’s educators, entrepreneurs and managers.
After nearly a decade, Bruner recently announced he’ll step down as dean but stay on as a Darden faculty member. Bruner is set to make the transition in July 2015. UVa said it plans to conduct a national search for his successor.
“My thinking is that Darden has accomplished much of what I hoped Darden would do when I accepted the appointment in 2005,” Bruner said during a recent interview at his office on UVa’s North Grounds.
“I got into the job, I got into this career because I like to teach and write, and I’m not doing a lot of that as dean. Being a dean is more about being an ambassador to external constituents, the university and that is very fulfilling work, but it doesn’t leave much time for teaching,” Bruner said.
Born in Chicago, Bruner grew up in Racine, Wis. He received a bachelor’s from Yale University and master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard University. He joined the Darden faculty in 1982.
On his first visit, “I was immediately impressed with the culture of the school, its values, its intense focus on the growth of the student and the collegiality among the faculty,” Bruner said. Although he’s proud of many things accomplished during his tenure, Bruner was quick to add that a team approach is what helped to bring the goals to fruition.
“A dean doesn’t accomplish things, the whole team accomplishes things,” Bruner said. “I have to credit everybody — all the faculty, the staff, the volunteers, the university leadership — for what we’ve done.”
During his tenure, Darden emerged as one of about a dozen business schools worldwide that attract students with Graduate Management Admission Test scores of, on average, more than 700. The school also has raised more than $150 million “in the worst philanthropic environment in many years,” as Bruner put it, and about 45 percent of Darden’s present faculty was hired under Bruner’s tenure as dean.
Students and colleagues have high praise for Bruner’s style and approach to business education.
“I’d say he’s very high engagement with the students and the faculty and staff here,” said Genie Ko, a second-year Darden student. “I think you can see that in his presence. We see him at First Coffee quite often,” Ko said. First Coffee is a Darden tradition where students, faculty and visitors gather after the first class of the morning to network and socialize.
“Bob Bruner has a clear understanding of the many complex factors that affect business higher education today and he has used this knowledge very effectively to raise the profile of the Darden School,” said Karen Emmett Coleman, associate dean of external affairs and executive director of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business Foundation.
“He understands all the pieces — academic, programmatic, relational and financial — necessary to produce a top-quality school,” Coleman said in an email.
Bruner was among 14 business school deans recently invited to the White House to discuss the prevalence of families in which all parents work and the increasing importance of women in the workforce.
“I was glad to be at the White House. Darden is honored that we were asked to be in that very special group and to advise the president,” Bruner said.
Looking ahead, Bruner said he’ll appreciate the opportunity to teach and write more frequently about leadership, business history and financial decision making.
“It’s a mistake to say, ‘Let’s just start a business’ because it sounds like fun. The world is a tough teacher … it pays to get some learning about the processes of basic business management,” Bruner said.