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Five minutes with Bob Bruner

Bob Bruner, Dean of the Darden School of Business

Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career?

My parents and family set high examples for work and life. The case method of teaching at Harvard Business School simply hooked me as the way to learn. Three professors of mine at Harvard Business School (John MacArthur, Tony Athos, and Chris Christensen) encouraged me to consider pursuing an academic career. And several colleagues at Darden (Ken, Eades, Bob Harris, Bill Sihler, and Bob Landel among others) coached me along the way.

If you could choose any company or organisation in the world to write a case about, which would it be, and why?

I’m interested in the ways that firms, financial institutions, and markets self-correct after mistakes or crises not of their own doing.

How would you convince a sceptic of the benefits of the case method?

Malcolm Gladwell (author of Outliers) and others have popularised the findings of rigorous research that ‘deliberate practice’ is what it takes to produce superior performance. The case method is a form of deliberate practice. 

Darden Business SchoolMy colleague, Alec Horniman (an industrial psychologist), likens each case discussion to a rehearsal of useful responses to some problem that a manager might well address in the future. At Darden, our MBA students will study some 600 cases over the course of 21 months – think of them as 600 rehearsals or 600 sessions of deliberate practice. That kind of practice makes quite an impression on the development of a new professional. 

And I like the case method because it produces learning that sticks. The case method is not focused on rote learning, such as the memorization of names, dates, and formulas.  Rather, the case method is focused on solving practical problems. Quite simply, people remember useful solutions to issues they confront – that’s sticky learning.

In 2011, Poets & Quants and CNNMoney/Fortune named you Dean of the Year. Which achievement during your time as Dean are you most proud of?

On my watch as Dean, I’m proudest of Darden’s ability to attract excellent students. This sets in motion a virtuous cycle by which our school has recruited strong faculty and staff members, attracted corporate partners, strengthened its brand, and raised funds – all of which reinforced our ability to attract excellent students.

If you could be transported into another profession for one week, which would you choose, and why?

Security analysis shares many of the enjoyable challenges of academia, discovering things and telling others about them.

How do you relax?

Hiking, biking, exploring other countries and the US, and reading refresh and renew me.

Do you have a favourite inspirational quotation or guiding principle?

‘Onward and upward’ has been my tag line over the years.  Academic institutions – particularly professional schools – need to keep adapting to the changing conditions of their fields. Excellence is a moving target.

Bob BrunerRobert F. Bruner is the eighth Dean of the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, University of Virginia, USA.

e brunerb@darden.virginia.edu

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