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From the Classroom to the Boardroom: Ross Alum David Deno Inspires MBA Students to Lead with Impact

Marcus Collins and Dave Deno sitting in chairs on a stage talking with a large block M in the background

David Deno, MBA ’82, outgoing CEO of Bloomin’ Brands, recently visited the Ross School of Business to participate in the Sanger Leadership Center’s Leadership Dialogue Series and visit a class, Business Leadership in Changing Times (MO 611).

Since graduating from Michigan Ross, Deno has had an award-winning career and worked for many high-profile brands, including Bloomin' Brands, the parent company of restaurants Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, and more, which he joined in 2012 and led as CEO from 2019 to 2024. Deno has also held senior roles at companies like Pizza Hut, Burger King, and Best Buy.

During the Leadership Dialogue Series fireside chat, Deno spoke with marketing professor Marcus Collins about various business topics, including the value of teamwork, culture, and knowing when to ask for help.

Deno also talked about his people-first strategy as a leader and how it has helped him navigate difficult situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. Deno’s leadership strategies have proven successful: In 2020, Bloomin’ Brands was recognized by Global Finance for its exceptional response to the global pandemic.

After the chat, Deno visited Business Leadership in Changing Times, a marketing and organizations class taught by Mike Barger, clinical assistant professor of business administration. Deno led a class activity that put students in the role of C-suite executives during a simulated press conference on March 20, 2020, the beginning of the pandemic. 

Deno answered stakeholder questions as part of the exercise and shared stories about what it was like to lead a company during such a tumultuous time. Fitting the theme of the course, Deno also gave his best advice to students on how to navigate a crisis as a business leader.

“David’s personality and confidence stood out throughout our class,” said Amartya Sensarma, MBA ’24. “He always valued doing the right thing; that was his biggest advice for all of us as soon-to-be graduates. As a leader, there might be times when the line may be gray or blurry, but doing what is right will always hold you well in the long run.”

As Deno shared lessons from his career with students, he focused on three main points for the 2024 MBA graduates to keep in mind: the importance of finding the right company fit for yourself, always staying forthright and honest, and always showing up and being a strong team player.

“Meeting the CEO of a prominent brand like Bloomin' Brands helped humanize executive leadership for me and many of my peers,” said Denny Lai, MBA ’24. “I recognized that many of the character traits and values that drive successful team dynamics during our time as students at Ross are paralleled in the realms of Fortune 500 boardrooms.”

After the class visit, students reflected on Deno’s advice and the other learnings they had accumulated during their time in MO 611. The course frequently hosts guest speakers like Deno with the goal of helping students network with alums at the C-suite level who can share some of their career experiences with the next generation of leaders.

“Having alumni who have taken the paths that many of my peers and I hope to have the opportunity to take leadership roles in helps craft our thought processes around what is likely to come our way in an increasingly complex, interconnected business world,” said Lai. “These conversations have also opened the doors for thinking about the multifaceted paths these executives have taken — and how much their Ross education and culture is ingrained in their everyday decision-making and team-development mentalities.”

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Clinical Assistant Professor of Business Administration