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What Can Principled Leaders Do?

A letter from Executive Director Diana Spencer

Dear Friends,

As 2021 comes to a close, I am delighted to share news of our fourth quarter. This time of the year is one of the most exciting for us at McGowan.

At the center of the excitement this month was the 12th McGowan Symposium, cohosted by University of Virginia, Darden School of Business, which focused on the question “What can conscious capitalism do?” The question made for lively conversation among the new McGowan Fellows, alumni, McGowan board members and staff, and presenters attending the online event.

The presenters included: Ed Freeman, Darden professor; Russell Diez-Canseco, CEO of Vital Farms; and Frank Sasso, president of Kaufman Development.

One element fueling the excitement: The topic of conscious capitalism was extremely well timed. As the world’s organizations face increasingly complex and volatile issues, corporate America—particularly among B Corporations that have been certified in light of their social and environmental performance, impact on workers and customers, and public transparency—has begun to consider its opportunities and responsibilities beyond serving shareholders. This includes embracing a “values-based” approach to decision-making, which is critical to the future health of our country.

The McGowan Fellows Program teaches exactly that: principled leadership. This rich, experiential program provides a nine-month platform for 10 second-year MBA students to learn, explore, and reflect on how to exercise ethical, values-based decision-making as they transition to leadership positions. As part of the fellowship, they tackle a social impact project, which requires them to learn about a deep societal problem and come up with a solution or product that will help the collaborating nonprofit in their service delivery. (This year, the immersion addresses youth experiencing homelessness.) Along the way, students also receive coaching to help them explore the alignment of McGowan principles to their own values.

We talk a lot about outcomes for all programs, and the Fellows program is no different. We conduct baseline and final surveys and appreciative inquiry interviews; we track assignments and watch as learning and transformation occur over the year. The data and stories are rich and encouraging, and we look forward to sharing the value we see in developing ethical leaders in the months ahead.


Diana Spencer
Executive Director