As part of my series about “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post-COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Saben, Chief Experience Officer and Executive Vice President for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers.
Dave Saben is the Chief Experience Officer and Executive Vice President of New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, the global leader in computer-based training with more than 2,600 courses and 200 training centers in 35 countries. New Horizons is the largest training provider for CompTIA, VMWare, and Microsoft, delivering more than 40 percent of the world’s authorized Microsoft training. For over 20 years, Mr. Saben has served as a trusted advisor, senior executive, or CEO at education, private equity, venture capital, ed-tech, assessment, and training organizations, including Ascend Learning, National Healthcareer Association, Assessment Systems, and Exam Ave.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you got started?
I got my start in technology by selling telecommunications door-to-door to pay for college. With the university’s traditional schedule, I had to work, run to class, and run back to work. When I graduated, I was disheartened to learn the jobs I was offered paid less than those I held while in school. I decided then that I wanted to improve this system — to make it easier for students to attend classes and to obtain skills that lead to better paying jobs.
After graduation, I continued to work for a telecommunications company, first as a consultant and then as director of national accounts. Eventually I began to focus on selling high-speed internet to career colleges that offered online classes. My next job, as vice president of sales and marketing, was with an educational technology company that improved nursing education by helping nursing students graduate and pass their licensure exam with online instruction. That’s where I learned the importance of assessment and making learning better through online delivery. I’ve been in online education ever since.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or takeaways you learned from that?
Early in my career, I was presenting to a large consortium of allied health administrators in Alabama. I decided that, in order to create a commonality, I would emphasize my southern drawl — which is a great challenge when you are from Maine. Halfway through my presentation, a spirited educator shouted, “Can you please slow down, you talk like a damn Yankee!” I learned at that time that words, cadence, and clarity are more important than showmanship.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations has guided me throughout my career. It focuses on controlling your emotions, to think first and react second. If we can control our emotions, we can see opportunities and take positive action.
Thousands of students taking technical training courses at New Horizons are applying this principle during the pandemic. Some have lost their jobs, and others fear their jobs will disappear, but they are all upgrading their skills so they can easily transfer to another job within their company or land a rewarding position with another organization. This is the perfect example of thinking first and reacting second.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. What is the vision and purpose for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers?
Right now, New Horizons’ mission is helping to get America, and the world, back to work. We want to help people who are displaced or looking for a different role — especially in the technology sector — to get a new, high-paying job.
Our New Horizons Online LIVE® training programs are an excellent conduit to new jobs and careers. Our synchronous classes resemble traditional classes where the teacher and students meet at the same time, but in a virtual environment. A top-level instructor works with students on real-life simulations in virtual labs and interacts with them in real time, answering questions and helping them one-on-one as they progress through the material. Also, with our synchronous classes, students learn from and motivate each other, which leads to enhanced learning. None of these experiences can be replicated when a student stares at a screen by himself or herself and receives no coaching.
Do you have a “№1 principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
The adage I live by is to keep my eyes on data and my ears on people. People are intrinsically biased, so you need data to mitigate poor decisions or miscalculations. But the human element is equally important.
After examining the data, I ask my colleagues and staff to interpret it. I’ll say, “This is what the data tells me. What do you think?” Then we reach a consensus. Whether we’re looking at new products or reviewing employee performance, every decision revolves around that adage.
Combining data and the human element is especially important now. As an organization leader, you know what the data tells you, but you need to find out what is going on in your employees’ lives, what they are struggling with. That way, you can support them.
Thank you for all that. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family-related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
When my children were put in virtual classrooms this past semester, the different pedagogical approaches were difficult to handle. Also, maintaining boundaries with work, school, and home was challenging. And, we all missed interacting with others.
Watching my children’s experience with online education — which was unsuccessful from both an educational and a social-emotional perspective — was difficult. I knew the experience could have been better, but I was powerless to help the schools. I could help my children, but not the teachers.
My children’s experience renewed my commitment to further improve online learning.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Coming face-to-face with the failures of online learning in my children’s schools spurred me to ensure that New Horizons provides a positive online learning experience for our students. We made registration simple, fast, and easy, and we made sure that our students could quickly learn to navigate the online learning process and seamlessly interact with their instructors.
New Horizons is fortunate, because we’ve provided outstanding virtual learning experiences for 35 years. Our pedagogical process is sound, and our Online LIVE® classes have a proven track record. We delivered 28,000 online courses last year alone.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I tell my children that attitude is key. Instead of panicking or worrying, which won’t help, they need to control their mind and make informed decisions. For example, they can ask themselves questions such as, “Why am I worrying about that?” Or, “Is my worry founded on fact?” Once they’ve calmed their mind, they can take action and improve the situation.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the post-COVID economy will look like. But we can, of course, try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the post-COVID economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet, at the same time, the post-COVID growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the post-COVID economy?
COVID has shown the power of technology and that IT workers are essential workers. We need employees to keep technological systems stable, help people get online, and nurture them. For those who have these skills, there are an amazing number of career opportunities, especially in areas like software engineering, development operations, and security engineering. Post-COVID, IT professionals will be even more essential.
Many of New Horizons’ tracks give students the competencies to earn national certifications, which enable them to start a new career or land a high-paying job. For instance, we provide 40 percent of the world’s authorized Microsoft training, as well as dozens of other technological competencies. Unlike simply taking an online course, national certification helps students stand out in this competitive market. Furthermore, workers who have multi-tiered national certifications can survive a recession or pandemic, because they can pivot and move into other positions.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act, or live?
COVID has accelerated trends in multiple areas: online education, online shopping, and working remotely. These trends will become standard practices in our lives.
We’re also rethinking work-life balance. We have one life, and we have to figure out how we maximize and prioritize our time.
Finally, as employers and organization leaders, we must understand that work happens wherever your employees are and that their children may be with them. The world of work is going to fundamentally change.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities now, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the post-COVID economy?
We’re investing heavily in technology and immersive technologies to improve our online educational experience. We’re also investing in advanced technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence to ensure we are creating the most innovative learning experiences.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I suggest that executives focus on technology and how it can make business more effective and efficient, how it can automate processes to reduce costs and improve overall efficiency.
I also encourage individuals not to give up hope. If you have been displaced, open another chapter in your life and find a job that makes you passionate and productive and pays your bills. The jobs are out there.
Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson” quote? Can you share how it was relevant to you in your life?
“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” I read that quote in the autobiography of Malcolm X when I was 11 years old, and it changed my life.
When you want to do something that defies conventional wisdom, you’ll run into resistance. For example, when I wanted to implement a learner-centric approach to education, I had to overcome objections and the structures that kept traditional educational models in place. If I hadn’t believed in an educational approach that truly helped people learn, I would have given in and kept the lecture teaching model. In this, and other innovations, that quote has always grounded me.
How can our readers further follow your work?
People can follow us at NewHorizons.com or to follow me, go to my website, https://www.davesaben.com/. We have to help each other, especially during these times. If we can connect people with an education that’s inexpensive, quick, and results in a high-paying job, that’s a good day.