Dave Heimbach (TEP ’22), President & CEO at Metronet, attended Darden Executive Education & Lifelong Learning’s The Executive Program (TEP) after it was endorsed by colleagues. Heimbach at the time was Metronet’s COO and was poised to transition into the role of CEO as a part of a long-term succession plan. He shares about his TEP experience, how he was able to immediately apply what he learned in the classroom to the business, what he hopes to accomplish as CEO, and more.

Dave Heimbach TEP Metronet CEO
Dave Heimbach, President & CEO, Metronet

Why did you choose TEP?

At my prior company, I worked for and with a couple of Darden alumni. I didn’t have any personal familiarity with UVA or the Darden program, but my colleagues spoke highly of and endorsed Darden, and it served as the impetus for me to reach out. I was looking to reengage in my ongoing development as an executive, and when I read about TEP online I felt like it was exactly what the doctor ordered. I applied and then decided to attend. Now having gone through the experience, I wholeheartedly agree with the endorsement of my former colleagues.

How have you applied your insights from TEP to your job and to life in general?

I immediately was able to implement some of the strategic frameworks that I learned in TEP and use those frameworks to help our company identify our strategic imperatives and crystalize, for the team, our long-term strategy to align with our financial and operational objectives. TEP positioned me to lead in a different capacity and bring the senior leadership team together, leveraging the tools that I obtained directly from my TEP experience.

Moreover, about a year after TEP, I invited Venkat (Professor Sankaran Venkataraman) to come and do a case study with my senior leadership team. It was an awesome experience! It was a case that was very relevant to what they were experiencing, and the case made things come to life for them.

On the personal front, I struggled with work-life balance coming into the program. With a crazy schedule, I had gotten away from doing things from a mindfulness and physical exercise perspective. TEP helped to kickstart that again in my daily routines. I credit TEP with getting back into a four to five day a week exercise routine and regularly doing mindfulness and meditation exercises again.

Are there any specific tools or processes that you routinely use from TEP?

The Cemex case study in the program had unique applicability to us even though we’re not in the concrete business. We’re at an inflection point in the maturation of the telecom fiber infrastructure space where we’re approaching an era of consolidation. In the past, we’ve been largely an organic growth company focused on structuring our balance sheet and executing our operational plans to build networks and then add customers to those networks across the country. Now we’re going to need to develop into a company that is capable of not only doing that, but also integrating other platforms that today we might compete with or even markets that we want to get into. The Cemex case and others like it from TEP are top of mind for me right now.

I’ll also reiterate that I’ve applied the strategy frameworks taught in TEP to our business, and have had other team members apply them as well. We also have another team member that just graduated from TEP to continue developing our team.

TEP provided an opportunity to meet other presidents and CEOs from around the world. Hearing different perspectives from my peers allowed me to be a bit more circumspect in terms of how I approached my leadership role in the company.

- Dave Heimbach, President & CEO, Metronet

What was the most impactful takeaway from your TEP experience?

I would say the opportunity to remove myself from my day-to-day business. I would describe it like photographing with a telephoto lens and having the opportunity to put a wide-angle lens on my camera. TEP was my aperture for change – I dove into new subjects and topics, met new people and heard about experiences that I would not have had the opportunity to do in my everyday life. It’s the part of the experience that’s had the greatest overall impact and the reason I was eager to share that experience with other colleagues.

You were recently promoted to President and CEO at Metronet. Do you feel like TEP played a role in helping you to move up into your new position?

I absolutely do. This change in my role wasn’t totally unexpected since it was part of a long-term succession plan for the business, but I will say TEP helped me show up differently as a leader and gave me the courage to step into the CEO role with a greater degree of confidence.

TEP also provided an opportunity to meet other presidents and CEOs from around the world. Hearing different perspectives from my peers allowed me to be a bit more circumspect in terms of how I approached my leadership role in the company that I may not have had the ability to do otherwise.

In your role as CEO, what are you hoping to accomplish to lead Metronet forward?

Metronet is a unique business with a very compelling opportunity ahead of it. We’re a rapidly growing multi-billion dollar enterprise that is operating in a subset of the telecom landscape that’s unique in the history and the evolution of the industry that we’re in. We’re building critical infrastructure to catch up with other Western countries in our deployment of fiber infrastructure in the U.S. It’s an incredibly fast-paced space that we’re very successful in and are generally looked to as a benchmark for our industry. It’s a bit daunting at times to have the responsibility to lead an enterprise like that, but it’s my hope that I can build on the momentum that we’ve already established over these last 15-20 years and continue to execute as well as we have historically into the future. It’s also a priority to continue to work with the team and our investors to continue to recruit, develop, and retain the people that we need to accomplish our objectives.

Have you stayed in touch with your cohort from TEP?

We all stay in touch on a WhatsApp group chat and via email. They are just an awesome group of people. I’ve had the opportunity to get together in person with a couple of peers since the program concluded. We also gave Darden a donation on behalf of the group as part of the redevelopment and installation of The Forum Hotel and surrounding gardens.

What advice would you give to someone who’s on the fence about committing to TEP?

I would say that you owe it to yourself to take this time to invest in you. Often, it’s difficult as a leader with a lot of responsibilities to give yourself the grace to do something for yourself, but it was a moment for me to take a step back from the business and have the confidence in my team to keep things together in my absence. It’s also tough to take time away from your family or loved ones, but that investment in myself and in my professional and personal journey was well worth the time away.