Written by The Business Journal Staff
What we do: We provide post-secondary, career-oriented education and training to prepare adults for successful careers. By doing so, we help transform the lives of our students, their families, and the communities we serve.
Education: BA, Political Science & History, UCLA; JD, University of Michigan Law School
Family: Wife, three children (ages 14, 12, and 8)
Tell us a little about your career path to your current position.
I spent a brief amount of time practicing law before transitioning to a career in business, beginning as a management consultant at McKinsey & Co. in Los Angeles. I moved to northern California in 2000 to join a San Francisco based private equity firm, where I invested in privately held businesses, serving on the boards of those companies, and helping the businesses improve and grow. In 2011, I began to focus on investing in the education sector and served on the boards of companies serving both the K-12 and college markets. In early 2012, I stepped in to serve as the CEO of a large career college based in Virginia, which ultimately led to my current role leading Heald College beginning in the fall of 2013.
You have an extensive background in investment. What drew you to education, Darren?
As the first in my family to attend college, my father (who dropped out of school at age 14) stressed the value of education to me at an early age. So I have always had an underlying appreciation for education and the profoundly positive impact it can have. It wasn’t until I had the privilege of leading an education company that I realized how incredibly passionate I was about the mission of educating adults and providing them with the tools and skills they need to be successful in life.
How does the San Joaquin Valley fit into the future of Heald College, Darren?
At Heald, we spend a lot of time analyzing the dynamics of the communities we serve and making sure we are tailoring our programs and curriculum to meet the needs of our employer partners specifically, and our communities in general. One of my main takeaways from my first few months at Heald is that there is a huge and growing need in the San Joaquin Valley for what we do. So, the San Joaquin Valley (and Fresno specifically) will feature prominently in Heald’s plans. We feel privileged to have the opportunity to play a major role in the health and welfare of Fresno and our other campuses in the San Joaquin Valley, including Modesto and Stockton.
For-profit college institutions have been criticized over how they state the value of their programs in the actual job market. How do you respond, Darren?
This criticism is one of my main frustrations and what I spend a lot of time talking about internally and externally. The notion that the tax status of an organization is somehow incompatible with an organization’s ability to deliver value and fulfill a social mission is unfair and inaccurate. There are for-profit companies that are not delivering value, but there are plenty of non-profit organizations that are also failing to do so. We need to move past this unfair bias against for-profit companies, and instead focus on the real issue: Our state has a growing need for skilled workers and we are failing to educate enough of them. This is what we focus on every day at Heald.
What are some of Heald’s most popular programs and why, Darren?
Our largest program currently is medical assisting. Our students have a strong interest in entering the medical field, partly out of desire to help people and partly because healthcare is such a dynamic and growing industry. Our program provides a great balance of technical skills, general education and critical thinking, as well as professionalism. Our employer partners in the healthcare industry are demanding more and more skilled workers who are professional and customer service oriented. We also offer other programs in the healthcare field such as pharmacy technology and dental assisting. My sense is that we will continue to expand into additional healthcare programs to meet the growing demand for jobs in this industry.
Can you tell us a little about your roles with the Bay Area Council and the American Enterprise Institute, Darren?
I’m somewhat of a public policy junkie. I was student body president of my high school and if I ever do something outside of being a CEO, it would probably be something political. My involvement in the Bay Area Council is recent and it’s driven by a desire to be current on the issues affecting northern California and to actively participate in the ongoing debate about the critical issues facing our region. I’m non-partisan, but I believe in the free enterprise system and the importance of creating conditions that will allow businesses to thrive. That’s the reason why I support and am involved with the American Enterprise Institute, one of the country’s leading free market oriented think tanks.
What was the best piece of advice you ever received, Darren?
From my earliest childhood memories, I recall my father constantly telling me that the most valuable thing in life is a good education. I feel privileged at this point in my life to be able to lead an organization that provides education to thousands of students every day.
What was your very first job and what did you learn from it, Darren?
As a young child, I would go to the swap meet to work with my father selling clothes and shoes. We would arrive early in the morning to set up. At the end of the day, I vividly remember my father counting the money he had earned. That experience cemented in my mind the connection between hard work and earned success. We see the same thing at Heald College – the pride that our graduates feel in being able to provide for themselves and their families through work in a meaningful career.
What do you like to do in your spare time, Darren?
Having a wonderful wife and three active children, keeps me very busy. Apart from family, I exercise and play sports – soccer, basketball, yoga, skiing. I’m also an avid reader.