Cold Calls and Capital Management at Darden

MBA students at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business are known to work quite hard amid the rigors of the case method. Each day, they are expected to read a business case and perform their own analysis of the situation presented. Then, they must compare and reason through their analysis with a small, diverse group of fellow students—their Learning Team. Students can often spend two to four hours prepping on their own and then two to three more with their teammates to arrive at an answer (as opposed to the answer). And what might be the reward for all this work? The student may be selected for a “cold call” to start off the class.

At Darden, most first-year and some second-year classes begin with a professor randomly selecting a student to lead the day’s discussion by presenting their case analysis. This student can be subjected to anywhere from five to 20 minutes of questioning, as the professor teases out key points of discussion for the broader class to explore. Many students have sweated through a cold call only to gain the applause of their peers at the end. (Others, of course, may not do as well.) These cold calls can be daunting, but they force students to prepare thoroughly and think on their feet—a key feature of the Darden learning experience.

Outside the Darden classroom, students can apply principles of the school’s general management program in the Darden Capital Management (DCM) club, where they evaluate equities to understand the entire firm while also specializing in asset management to further their careers in this finance industry niche. Many think that because Darden casts itself as offering a general management program, the school has no specialties. General management, however, is a philosophy that suggests that no business problem can be viewed in isolation—for example, a finance problem relates to marketing, a marketing problem relates to operations, and so on.

Through DCM, first-year students pitch long and short investment ideas to second-year student fund managers who oversee approximately $18M of Darden’s endowment, which is divided among five funds, each with its own focal area. The first years ultimately “graduate” and run these funds themselves for credit as second years, reporting on their investment decisions and performance to Darden’s finance board. Students who manage these funds report that they have had an advantage breaking into asset management, because this hands-on experience gives them plenty to discuss in interviews. Managing around $18M will do that…

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