2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Stephen Beaudoin, University of Virginia (Darden)

Stephen Beaudoin

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

Age: 42

“Tireless champion for art and creativity as fundamental rights; social impact entrepreneur; transformational leader.”

Hometown: Independence, Missouri

Family Members: I’m the youngest of four extraordinary siblings (hi Tom, Ann, and John!) and the son of two terrific parents, Nata and Ross. Joe is my lifelong partner and future husband, and Tessa is our precious pup.

Fun fact about yourself: If you walk into any Starbucks in the world during the November-December holiday season, there is an approximately .6% chance you’ll hear my voice as a backing vocalist on a Pink Martini cover of “Santa Baby” that plays on Christmas season rotation in Starbucks brick and mortar stores.

Undergraduate School and Degree: New England Conservatory of Music, Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance with Distinction in Performance honors, 2002

Where are you currently working? Executive Director of two-time Grammy Award winners, The Washington Chorus.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Co-Chair, UVA Darden EMBA Engagement Committee

Vice President, Communications, Darden EMBA Entrepreneurship Club

Vice President, Social Impact, Darden EMBA Diversity and Inclusion Club

Founder, Nonprofit Board + Philanthropy Participation Project

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? One of my not-so-surreptitious goals while at Darden has been to both demonstrate the value-add of a high-quality MBA education to the nonprofit sector and to motivate MBAs here and around the world to engage in nonprofit advocacy, philanthropy, and board service – starting with my EMBA Class of 2022. I produced a two-part Nonprofit Board and Philanthropy Participation Project series of extracurricular engagements for our class, culminating in Darden faculty-led Impact Talks on how to advocate, serve, and give in the nonprofit sector, followed by a Nonprofit Pitch Fest where seven nonprofits pitched projects to our class, and real grant funding from the Hand in Hand Fund was awarded. With gratitude to my collaborating classmate and friend Aisha Pridgen, I’m proud of this project and look forward to expanding this line of impact.

A particular academic project I’m finishing up as graduation approaches is one of which I am especially proud: it’s a comprehensive research project seeking to understand the factors that most influence employee engagement in nonprofit performing arts dual leadership contexts. Given how pervasive dual leader models are in the performing arts nonprofit segment – I work as part of a dual leader model in my current organization, with the extraordinary Eugene Rogers, Artistic Director, as my co-leader – it has been surprising to discover how comparatively little research there is that seeks to understand what factors most drive employee engagement in these models (whether in opera companies, orchestras, choirs, dance organizations, presenters, performing arts centers, or theatre companies). Utilizing linear regression modeling and qualitative analysis, my research will bring together findings from across these various segments. In the process, I have been pointing up key themes and trends across the industry and opportunities to make meaningful improvements within these models in service to stronger employee engagement. This is an independent study project guided by Darden faculty advisor, the terrific Jim Detert, and I look forward to publishing the findings this summer and fall in industry publications.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I specialize in organization and community transformation. Through that lens I’m proud of every time I have left an organization and community stronger, better, and more resilient than when I came in. I’m proud of our values, business, digital, and impact transformation at The Washington Chorus, and the Darden EMBA educational experience has in every way fueled this transformation: from the 485% improvement over two fiscal years to our net assets position to a comprehensive brand refresh; from our embrace of data analytics to fuel stronger customer acquisition, retention, and upgrading to creating and launching dynamic pricing models to maximize profitability of our concert productions – every part of The Washington Chorus’ work, and my leadership, has been impacted by the Darden EMBA experience.

I also want to highlight the importance of mentorship, advising, support, and endorsement. I would not be where I am today without the support and endorsement of leaders at all stages of my career – advisors and mentors like Steve Smith, Julie Mancini, Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, Roey Thorpe, Michael Mael, Gary Ginstling, Brisa Carleton, the list goes on – and I have a strong belief in the responsibility to lift as we climb. I am proud to likewise dedicate time to support other emerging leaders in their growth and advancement, through coaching, advising, mentorship, and support.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? While my mind was expanded by countless Darden professors – Jim Detert, Rajkumar Venkatesan, Laura Morgan Roberts, Shane Dikoli, Greg Fairchild, Elliott Weiss, and Scott Snell among them – it was the philosophical “Venkat” (Professor Sankaran Venkataraman) that most stirred my imagination and moved me to action as an entrepreneur. Venkat’s teaching style might be best described as monastic, and yet it was this intentional and spare approach that not only drove enormous value and meaning, but also went to the very heart of what matters about the impact we hope to make in this world. Venkat really made me think, he made me cry (happy tears: tears of inspiration and hope), and he got me moving on some ventures.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? After having had the opportunity to learn with Darden faculty member Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts as part of the National Arts Strategies executive leadership program at Harvard in 2019, I was inspired by the case method and intrigued to learn more about Darden. After being accepted to six top EMBA programs, the choice for me ultimately came down to three factors: intellectual rigor, equity-infused curriculum, and intentionally connected community. Darden offers all three in abundance.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I had no idea until Darden that I’d be lit up by three areas especially: strategy, operations/continuous improvement, and marketing – especially the intersections among these three. I treasure every opportunity today to “go to the GEMBA,” find myself unconsciously measuring cycle and throughput times in just about every process, and am obsessed with strategy execution as a key to real value creation. One application and outcome of note: leveraging what I learned about digital marketing, we doubled down on our digital strategy and investment to drive top of funnel brand awareness for the Chorus, and we now have one of the largest TikTok followings (59k followers and counting) of any American classical music organization.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I’m certain my partner, Joe, may have the best stories about how I’ve had variable success in keeping these elements afloat, especially during COVID times. He deserves a medal for his endless patience, support, and good humor through it all. Here’s a recent story that I think illustrates the reality as it showed up for me:

It was a Monday in late March of 2022, and I started my day at 6:45 am with a quick 35-minute workout at the gym, followed by coffee and a light breakfast at home. Then I drove into downtown DC for a full day of Washington Chorus meetings at our city center office. On my lunch break, I interviewed a Fortune 500 senior leader as part of a consulting project for a class with Toni Irving. That afternoon, I drove from DC to Tysons Corner for an evening concert by the Chorus at Capital One Hall. On the drive down, I took a meeting with a classmate regarding an entrepreneurial venture on which we’re collaborating, then took a negotiation meeting with a valued partner organization. 5 pm hits, and it’s time for dinner with some key Washington Chorus supporters. 6:45 pm and we’re headed to the concert hall, where I arrive early to greet supporters; the concert fires up at 7:30. At intermission (8:20 pm), I race backstage to take a meeting with classmates: we run through our Wicked Problems presentation and take notes on needed improvements. Post-concert (about 9 pm), my Darden laptop is back in the bag and I’m back in the lobby to connect with supporters and facilitate introductions: then I’m off to post-concert party number one with Chorus members and thereafter to post-concert party number two with collaborating artists from the MetOpera and elsewhere. I arrive home just after midnight and fire up the Darden laptop one last time to respond to a few class follow-ups and make my to-do list for the next day. Wash, rinse, repeat.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? In your 30’s or 40’s, it is uniquely challenging to make real adult friends. I have found quite the opposite at Darden, and am grateful to have made many new friends – friends for life, friends who will absolutely be there for each other – through this experience.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not having the capacity to take more courses from more professors. The Darden faculty talent bench runs deep, and in many respects, I wish I had another quarter or two to get to all those professors and classes that the course load caps simply did not allow.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Pragnya Lenka. Her wisdom, personal modesty, easy manner, and spark of intelligence brought so much value to our cohort. And I believe Pragnya exemplifies this concept of competing only against oneself: I’ve found her reflections on her growth edge, and the examples she’s shared of ways the program challenged her in service to continuous improvement, to be enormously meaningful. And we had the absolute best time together with classmates on our Darden Global Residency trip to Berlin and Munich last fall.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I wanted an intensive, high-impact educational experience, and I wanted to get it done as efficiently as possible.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I have three: to run a major performing arts/entertainment center; to help turn around the continued national decline in philanthropic participation; and of course, to inspire MBAs to get engaged as advocates, board members, and philanthropists in the nonprofit sector. The ultimate impact I hope to create? A world that is more connected, empathic, and healed through a democratization of art and access to revolutionary creativity.

What made Stephen such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

In my decades of teaching, I labor to connect personally with my students. With some students, this is easier. Occasionally, it is due to mutual interests and innovative projects. With others, it is drawn from the force of personality. With Stephen Beaudoin, it has been both.

I had the opportunity to learn directly from Beaudoin when he submitted a venture idea with a novel question:

  • “What if you could get a Grammy-winning musician or a Michelin-starred chef to create something just for you and your friends?”

Recognizing that such an opportunity didn’t currently exist, Beaudoin ventured into the process of creating the delivery system for such a venture. While I was excited about the notion because of the product – one I would like- I was taken with the depth of thought and analysis that supported the venture.

Later, as I spent time with Stephen, I recognized an emphasis on building capacity with others. He shared other ideas about ways to strengthen the current- and post-degree experiences of his classmates, and particularly as it related to establishing connections beyond alumni gatherings (or donations). He was interested in finding ways to establish connection through meaning, and he helped create and curate an event to assist his fellow students in getting involved in locally-based nonprofits. The evening event provided an easy on-ramp for a set of students hungry to make a difference.

We are lucky to have admitted Stephen – for what he offers during class and beyond.”

Greg Fairchild
Darden Professor and Associate Dean for Washington DC Area Initiatives


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