Gregory B. Fairchild has taught hundreds of MBA students since joining the faculty of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business in 2000.
He’s also taught dozens of prisoners.
His efforts – in the classroom, in Virginia’s prisons and in partnership with companies and cities on projects like health clinics in Haiti or post-Katrina revitalization in New Orleans – all contributed to Fairchild’s recent recognition as MBA Professor of the Year, announced by the MBA news publication Poets & Quants on New Year’s Day.
The publication praised Fairchild’s “dedication to teaching and scholarship,” his reputation as “an inspiring, warm, open and tough teacher” and his “highly novel” program teaching entrepreneurship to prison inmates.
Each year, Fairchild and several second-year MBA students travel to Virginia correctional facilities to teach weekly business classes for prisoners nearing their release date.
The program began in 2012, shortly after an inmate wrote to then-Dean Robert Bruner asking how Darden could help him launch his business idea after he left prison.
Bruner turned to Fairchild, who teaches strategy, ethics and entrepreneurship, for ideas, and within three months the professor was in prison teaching classes. Today, the program – now administered through the Resilience Education nonprofit foundation created by Fairchild and his wife, Darden alumna Tierney Temple Fairchild – has enrolled more than 450 inmates and 136 MBA student teachers.
We caught up with Fairchild shortly after he was named MBA Teacher of the Year to learn more about this program, his teaching philosophy and why he loves his job so much.
Q. You earned your MBA from Darden in 1992. What brought you back as a professor?
A. It was not a path I expected to take. I came to Darden [as a student] expecting to work in marketing, and I did work for Proctor & Gamble for several years after graduation.
However, while I was at Darden, faculty members who got to know me well asked me if I had considered getting my Ph.D. and exploring a career in teaching. I was flattered and surprised – I had never really thought of myself as a professor.
Ultimately, I took their advice, pursued a Ph.D. and returned to Darden to teach. Some of those same professors are now wonderful colleagues.
Q. Poets & Quants noted that Darden is known as “the business school with the world’s best teaching faculty,” and the Darden faculty has topped several other rankings. What sets the Darden faculty apart?
A. We are very intentional. We care about teaching and we talk about it constantly. Anyone roaming Darden’s faculty offices will find lots of hallway conversations about teaching, lots of meetings and debates about how we can help our students understand different concepts and cases. Like anyone who loves something, Darden faculty members love to talk about teaching and to debate different theories or methods.
Q. How do you build strong relationships with your students?
A. In many ways, I am just trying to do what others at Darden have done for me. Darden faculty members got to know me personally and realized that I might be a good fit for a Ph.D. I try to get to know something about every student I teach and to learn more about what they want to do. If I see something that they might be interested in, I reach out and share it with them.
I also try to teach material that encourages students to share more about themselves. In addition to my other classes, I teach a “Business Ethics Through Literature” class where we read fiction and short stories. It’s amazing how much you can learn about someone by reading and discussing a great book together.
My wife and I also have lots of students over to our house for dinner, which is a great way to get to know everyone.
Q. How have the entrepreneurship courses you teach in Virginia prisons impacted the inmates you have worked with?
A. We have heard from prison staff that the classes – and the way we discuss future possibilities in class – are changing the way inmates think about their future, even before they are released. Our courses are also contingent on good behavior, and students tend to record fewer infractions once they are enrolled, because they want to stay in class.
After leaving prison, the recidivism rate for our students is in the single digits, compared to about 22 percent statewide. I have had many wonderful letters from former students who are now enrolled in college, who have started their own businesses and who have reunited with their families. Those letters are tremendously encouraging.
Q. How has teaching in prison impacted your MBA students?
A. I knew that the opportunity to teach someone else would help my students really understand the business concepts they were learning. However, I did not expect to see such high demand for these teaching slots, or to see how personally close students become to the men and women they are teaching.
One student, at the end of the program, told me that while he previously would have been skeptical about hiring newly released prisoners, he had an entirely different perspective now. I have also heard from students who have had family members in prison and who now want to help others in similar situations.
Q. In addition to your work with prison inmates, you have participated in numerous initiatives inside and outside the classroom geared toward helping low-income or disadvantaged communities. What motivates you to consistently take on these challenges?
A. I had a mentor years ago who told me that if I wanted to bring about social change, I should consider the significant influence that business can have on people’s lives. I have never forgotten that. Decisions about hiring, where to put plants or factories, or how to use resources have tremendous impact. If you can work with businesspeople to understand those impacts and responsibilities, you can do a lot to help address problems in our world.
Q. What else are you excited to work on right now?
A. I am part of expanding Darden’s presence in Washington, D.C., where Darden recently opened new facilities. It’s a very exciting city where academia can be a part of big discussions about what type of country and society we want to be. Washington is a city of ideas, and I am excited to be a part of that and to encourage many other UVA faculty members and students to think about how they can bring their work to the nation’s capital.