2019 Best EMBAs: Flora Chang, The Wharton School

Flora Chang

The University of Pennsylvania’s The Wharton School (San Francisco)

“A New York pharmacist turned Napa Valley vintner with a thirst for learning and wine.”

Age: 30

Hometown: Yountville, CA

Family Members: Jason Chang- Spouse, Hudson Chang- Son

Fun fact about yourself: My preferred music genre is Broadway Musicals

Undergraduate School and Degree: Long Island University, Doctor of Pharmacy

Where are you currently working? Nine Suns Winery- Proprietor

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch: In addition to supporting the organization I am actively involved in planning and hosting the annual fundraiser, which brings in over one million dollars annually to serve our the animals of our local community.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During the second year of my EMBA program, I became pregnant with my first child. Determined to continue the momentum at school, and with enormous assistance from my husband, I was able to return to school soon after giving birth. In fact, I didn’t miss a single class!

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Running a family business requires being a jack-of-all-trades. This, however, often means, that you aren’t a master of all. In my case, finance was the area I most deficient in. Wharton has a storied reputation for the strength of its finance program and so it aligned well with my interest in developing those skills.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? EVERYTHING! This has been one of the best, exhilarating and most humbling experiences of my life. The world-class faculty, the location by San Francisco’s Bay Bridge and a cohort of some of the smartest folks I’ve ever met are just some of the components that made the program extraordinary. The admissions team must perform some sort of wizardry in selecting the candidates that make it to the program – each and every one of my classmates was incredible. I was truly humbled to be a member of that group.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I have grown as both a leader and an operator as a result of this MBA program. In the realm of operations, I have developed the skills to understand how different levers affect our bottom line. One particular example is mapping what is termed the ROIC Tree (or Return of Invested Capital Tree) to identify the levers that yield the greatest results when modified. Going through this exercise for our winery business aided me in uncovering where we were sustaining great losses, though it was not obvious at first glance. Since then we’ve adjusted our harvest and winemaking to ensure the same quality of wine production while managing our costs more efficiently.

I’ve learned to think systematically and critically about various operation levers and how they affect our bottom line. As an example, during our operations courses, we learned about mapping out ROIC (Return on Invested Capital) trees in order to identify elements of the business, which if adjusted, would have the outsize effects on returns. We were able to apply this to our winery operations.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? As mentioned above, I became pregnant during my second year of school and in my conviction to continue with the program, I made necessary preparations for baby’s arrival. I was due to give birth just a week before starting my final school semester and decided I’d get a head start knowing that sleepless nights lay ahead. Luckily, our professors had posted a lot of the required readings well ahead of the actual classes, so I capitalized on my unusually long hospital stay (5 days), during which we had ample nurse care to complete as much of the work as possible before coming home. Thanks to the nurses and my husband’s unyielding assistance and support, I was able to return to class on time and in fact, did not have to miss a single class session.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Building our winery and wine brand from the ground up has been the greatest professional achievement. It’s particularly special to watch our clients enjoy great pleasure from what we’ve built.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Nicolaj Siggelkow- his ability to engage a freshman class in profound discussions about strategy is unmatched.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Influence. The course shifted how I thought about networks and integrating my personal and professional life.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I had a particularly busy time during my second year of schooling when I gave birth to my first baby. Determined not to skip any coursework, the baby joined me for late night study sessions.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Communicate with your loved ones about the time commitment—they’ll be the greatest help.

 What is the biggest myth about going back to school? (and how was it the same or different than what you experienced)

Prior to entering, I had heard that Wharton tends to attract those who have deep finance experience and that I would not be able to keep up. I found that my classmates came from a wide variety of backgrounds and that the discipline of finance was not inaccessible.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not taking more management courses.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? John Chou. He is an anesthesiologist and hospital administrator with four kids. His ability to juggle all that was remarkable.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Continuing to build our luxury wine brand to have global reach.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I’d like classmates to remember me as someone who contributed to their MBA experience by deepening class discussion and as a friend they can forever reach out to.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

Getting an MBA was one of them so that one is checked off!

I’d like to visit all seven continents throughout my lifetime.

What made Flora Chang such an invaluable addition to the class of 2019?

“Flora has an easy and approachable style, she is quick to engage with her classmates, smile and put everyone at ease. Coming from an East Coast pharmacy background, she did an incredible 180-degree shift to fully embracing the family wine business. Flora used the program to develop deep understanding and skill in Finance, entrepreneurship, leadership and marketing. She puts everything she learned to use in at Nine Suns Winery, where she hopes to create a global luxury brand. To her classmates delight, Flora recently hosted about 30 of her classmates at the winery in Napa. Flora has been passionate about the program and learning as much as she can from the faculty and her peers but I have to say we were shocked and amazed when she returned to classes just a week after the birth of her baby! She had support from everyone around her and the village helped to make it all work!”

Bernadette Birt

Executive Director

Wharton MBA Program for Executives