Noel Hiney traveled from Ireland in 2001 to participate in Darden Executive Education & Lifelong Learning’s global, advanced management experience, The Executive Program (TEP).  Since that time, he says his Darden experience has proven to be indispensable throughout his career. It gave him an unshakeable confidence in himself, a deeper understanding of how to enact meaningful change — even during times of crisis — and insight into how to put people at the center of what he did as a leader.

After returning home from TEP, Hiney leveraged his Darden experience to begin a new role performing new business searches, such as acquisition opportunities, for the Bank of Ireland in Europe. He subsequently established a new government relations division at the bank when the global financial crisis hit in 2008. In 2015, he pivoted into a new career in aviation research and is currently conducting Ph.D. studies focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on the aviation industry from a stakeholder management perspective.

He recently shared how participating in TEP helped him grow and develop the confidence to pursue new endeavors.

Why did you choose TEP?

At the time, I was at the Bank of Ireland and was responsible for many of the organization’s  digital banking activities, which was still a fairly new area in 2001. They selected me to participate in a major external development program and gave me the freedom to pick the program and location. I spoke with others in my organization who participated in programs at other top institutions, including  two bosses who had participated in Darden programs. They spoke about how Darden lifted them above the day-to-day of their jobs, exposed them to an international dimension in relation to strategy and change, and emphasized that the quality of the faculty was superb. I think it’s also important to note that I was able to focus solely on learning in the program, as I knew when I came back I would be stepping into a new business growth role.

Knowing that you’d be stepping into a new role, how did that affect your goals coming into the program?

At that point in my career, I had held a few senior leadership positions, but they were well-established roles when I started them. I wanted to be able to think and act more strategically, look at the big picture and understand how to effect change. In my new role, I knew I was going to be doing something new and that meant having a lot of questions, both big and small, to answer. I wanted to understand the current thinking on change, operations management and many other key business topics. I wanted to come back as a new person who was ready to start a new role from scratch.

How has what you learned at Darden continued to impact you throughout your career?

My experiences at Darden continued to prove useful throughout my professional career. The first was about seven years later in 2008 with the onset of the financial crisis, which hit Ireland hard. I was asked to create the bank’s first government relations division and start building relationships with government departments and politicians in Ireland and the UK. My experience at Darden allowed me to analyze the change involved in this situation. I better understood that the activities you take on as a leader affect people, both inside and outside of the organization, and to be mindful of the impact it would have on those people.

I also learned just how interconnected all aspects of business life are. The case study method really helped with being able to analyze situations with this broader perspective. I remember Professor Alan Beckenstein teaching about the global macroeconomic situation and then Professor Alec Horniman talking about what it means to me as an individual. The professors were effortlessly able to refer to each other’s teachings and research as it applied to the issue in the case we were studying.

In 2015, I left the Bank of Ireland and decided to explore the aviation industry, which was always of interest to me. I wanted to become an aviation specialist and returned to business school, earning a master’s degree in aviation leadership. I also returned to Darden and completed Executive Education’s  Managing the Corporate Aviation Function program. It was a very significant change after being at the bank for 35 years. Darden helped me understand you can accomplish those types of changes. There were fundamental building blocks that I learned at Darden that gave me the confidence that I could do it.

Was there anything that surprised you about your Darden experience?

In my cohort, there were 33 of us with significant international diversity. I had never done a management program before in which the group gelled together so well. In fact, our group actually held a TEP reunion two years after the program. I still keep in touch with many in my cohort to this day. The entire Darden environment was very warm and welcoming, which added to the cohesion of the group.

What also really set Darden apart was their focus on wellness and mindfulness. When I went back to work after TEP, I was more mindful as a leader in how I interacted with colleagues with the understanding that they may be dealing with hard things that I was not aware of. I was able to have more constructive conversations and have always sought to put the person at the center of my leadership approach.

If you were talking to someone about TEP and how it can impact your life, what are some of the things you would say to them?

TEP really did help me grow as a leader. We were always on the go in the program. There was so much intense learning happening, and the warm and embracing environment made it all possible to tackle this intense learning. Not only did it give us key business disciplines in a concentrated way, it did so in an integrated manner, which made the material much easier to understand and apply. I’ve done other really good programs, but Darden’s faculty brought TEP to another level of excellence.

Time also assumed a different quality in Darden! We were able to spend more time, in class and as individuals and groups, considering the pressing topics and challenges of the day in a deeper manner than would otherwise have been possible.

I found the program hit all the right buttons for me in terms of personal development and it did so for many of my peers as well.

One of the other things about TEP, and it probably is the secret sauce: It gave me a belief about myself that I might not have developed as quickly if I hadn’t done the program.

The Executive Program: Strategic Leadership at the Top will run from 6 June – 17 December 2021.