McDonough School of Business
News Story

Speaker Salon Enhances MBA Leadership Curriculum


In previous centuries, intellectuals would gather around good food and wine to discuss everything from philosophy to culture to politics. This tradition of civil discussion and debate is what inspired J. Douglas Holladay, Heinz Christian Prechter Executive in Residence, to host Leadership Speaker Salons for Georgetown McDonough MBA students featuring prominent business executives.

“As America becomes more and more divided, it is important that we learn to have important conversations in a civil way,” explained Holladay. “The salons offer students a chance to be with a real thought leader, but in an atypical context.”

The salons are born out of Holladay’s MBA course, “The Life of Work: Bringing Meaning and Contribution to Business,” which invites students to be reflective about their lives, pondering questions intended to lead to a life of meaning. For each salon, 30 students are selected on a first-come, first-served basis to attend. From those 30 students, 10 are randomly selected to join the speaker and Holladay at a local restaurant after the event.

The series has hosted a number of impressive individuals through Holladay’s professional network, including Frank D’Souza, chairman and CEO of Cognizant; Deanna Mulligan, President and CEO of The Guardian Life Insurance Company; and Carol Melton, executive vice president of Time Warner Inc.

“I bring on friends, and they trust me,” said Holladay, who also is founder of PathNorth and general partner of Elgin Capital Partners LP. “I tell my students to work them over, to ask about their lives and their mistakes. The hallmark is authenticity.”

Holladay’s methods prove effective. Emma Loughman (MBA’18), former executive vice president of the Student Government Association, explained, “The way Doug fosters the environment for these events is candid and safe. Speakers discuss challenges and successes openly, inviting students to share pieces of their own lives and ask questions.” 

While Loughman took Holladay’s course, participation in “The Life of Work” is not a prerequisite to attending a salon.

“A good number of students interested in the salons have been former students of Doug who couldn’t wait to get more. But many others heard about the experience and decided to come separately,” said Navin Thawani (MBA’18), former president of the Student Government Association. “I think they would agree that he is the best teacher we never had.”

The Leadership Speaker Salon supplements Georgetown McDonough’s leadership curriculum, which has expanded over the past few years and allows students the opportunity to self-assess, develop persuasive communication skills, and explore ethical leadership.

The Executive Challenge, which requires students to participate in a day-long case competition, culminating in student teams presenting their arguments and strategy to a panel of judges, was launched last year. The event brings 150 senior alumni to campus to role play senior executives that the students must persuade, simulating what might happen in a board room or executive meeting.

This year, the Executive Challenge will be elevated by the Leadership Fellows Program, which trains carefully selected second-year MBA students to mentor two first-year teams through the Executive Challenge. In order to become fellows, students must participate in two additional rigorous leadership training courses.

“Alumni were blown away by last year’s Executive Challenge, and I imagine they will only be more impressed by the overall quality of preparedness this year, thanks to the Leadership Fellows,” said Prashant Malaviya, senior associate dean for MBA programs and associate professor of marketing.

Malaviya is excited to help students tackle new leadership challenges, including managing in a world where employment is tenuous. He expects the curriculum to continue to grow and develop alongside structural changes in society, and as such, the practical, hands-on components of the MBA leadership curriculum – like the Leadership Speaker Salon, Executive Challenge, and Leadership Fellows – are instrumental.