Darden Executive Education & Lifelong Learning Chief Client Officer: ‘Learning Is the Core Differentiator of Successful Companies Today’

By Dave Hendrick

As the chief client officer and executive director for Darden Executive Education & Lifelong Learning, Devin Bigoness helps design and deliver educational solutions for a wide range of organizations. It’s a collaborative process that involves the Executive Education team, Darden faculty, partners and clients to deliver both business value and innovation that generates long-term success. Joining Darden as the School prepares to open The Forum Hotel, the new home of the Sands Institute for Lifelong Learning, and to expand its capabilities in the Washington, D.C., area, Bigoness recently spoke about what organizations need and how Darden consistently delivers on its promise.

What are the top client needs in Executive Education right now?

Devin Bigoness

Devin Bigoness

Following the pandemic, organizations today are operating in an ever-changing, VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment. Many are grappling with how to align their talent retention, development and recruitment efforts to the fast-changing demands and opportunities they face. Based on this complexity and the fog in which many leaders operate, leadership development and broader business acumen have never been more necessary than in 2023.

Many organizations are discovering that they need stronger leadership skills in-house, particularly in industries such as technology, public sector, engineering, healthcare, law and financial services. They want to customize solutions at scale to help their talent develop. Coming out of the pandemic, we offer a broad, strategic view of what a solution or program might look like. Many of our programs feature a blended design with in-person workshops, synchronous live virtual sessions, asynchronous learning assets, executive or peer coaching and strategic project work for implementation. Through these expanded approaches, clients can create lasting impact in their leaders at the kind of speed and scale that they need to navigate increasingly complex environments.

How do you work with executives or HR personnel to devise an appropriate plan?

We start by understanding the client’s organizational strategy, and we help identify what they are ultimately trying to accomplish. Secondly, we link that to the critical capabilities, mindsets and tools that employees will need to deliver on that strategy. With this in place, we design and deliver dynamic and often blended-learning programs using a wide range of technologies including in-person sessions.

Our client solutions tend to address either organizational horizontals or verticals. We can focus on  horizontal levels of leadership, such as emerging leaders, the C-Suite or executive leaders, or vertical functional areas such as business disciplines or functions. Business professionals and organizations can be both deep and wide — you need the depth of technical expertise, and you need to have the business and leadership breadth to connect all of the pieces with the broader organizational and societal alignment.

Darden partners with many  organizations to help diagnose where to focus in order to can deliver the greatest impact. We then discover, design and deliver the program using Darden’s world-class faculty and program managers. We are proud that most of our clients are interested in partnering over the long-term as their individuals and as organizations continue to evolve.

What’s exciting about the work Darden is doing in Executive Education right now?

Darden’s integrated approach  allows us to leverage our primary assets — world-class education experiences, a top-rated faculty, and the unique Darden community — for customized client engagements. Many of our potential and existing clients in Executive Education are looking for a partner to help with complex business and talent issues, and Darden can offer innovative and trusted educational solutions as a core part of our mission.

It is also exciting to help  clients develop a lifelong learning system. We partner with organizations to create offerings that can follow a leader from onboarding, through key milestones and culminate when they get to executive/C-Suite strategic leadership positions.

How does your work push the Darden School forward?

Darden has a strong history in executive education and lifelong learning, and we have the ambition, capabilities and creative thinking to imagine the possibilities for the future. Darden has worked across military, government, corporations and associations for more than 50 years to help clients move forward.

We also need to navigate some paradoxes: For example, how do we leverage our strong past while innovating for the future? How do we address today’s business needs while experimenting with new business models to make sure we stay relevant? How do we help our clients build talent capabilities locally and globally? How do we help clients grow both their shareholder value and their stakeholder value? These are just some of the exciting tensions that Darden Executive Education and Lifelong Learning are working through. We are an innovation engine in education, helping to grow our global brand, working to offer a larger range of scholarships and broaden accessibility generally and assisting in the recruitment, retention, development and connections of our faculty.

If you could get one message across to potential clients, what would it be?

Learning is the core differentiator of successful companies today — and even more so tomorrow. Darden has a strong capability to design and deliver innovative education experiences to help address a wide range of business challenges such as talent development, retention, market growth, strategy execution and leadership effectiveness. Executive education and lifelong learning is a key area for companies to have a trusted partner with the experience, brand, track record and creative thinking capability to complement HR, learning and development and talent efforts. Through education experiences with impact and scale, organizations, societies and the world can move forward.

We are excited to imagine the possibilities with talent leaders, Darden and UVA alumni and organizational stakeholders. Together we can discover how education can be a competitive advantage for your organization and why Darden can be a talent-development partner today and in the years to come.

Learn more about Darden’s learning solutions for organizations or contact Devin Bigoness at BigonessD@darden.virginia.edu directly to discuss your talent development needs.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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