2018 Best EMBAs: Charlotte Robertson, University of Virginia (Darden)

Charlotte Robertson

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business               

“Enthusiastic about hospitality, happiest when learning a new skill, loves hiking, reading and museums.”

Age: 40

Hometown: Charlottesville, VA

Family Members: Single

Fun fact about yourself: I was born in a tiny town in the Japanese countryside, the first baby with red hair most people in Komatsu had ever seen!

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Virginia, English and Japanese

Where are you currently working? ThinkFoodGroup by José Andrés, Director of Restaurants, Las Vegas

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Mentor to college students, guest speaker at TISOH (The International School of Hospitality) in Las Vegas, volunteer at a local food non-profit, avid hiker and photographer

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I was proud to have been a guest speaker at TISOH and to help guide students on their career path.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of the tenure of my staff and the culture that I have helped to create in the restaurants I manage. I moved to Las Vegas in early 2011 to join the management team at China Poblano a couple months after opening. I was able to hire staff that was inexperienced but had great attitudes and loved coming to work. The first year was difficult, as we were short staffed and dealt with all the hardships that come from opening a new restaurant in a new market. The staff stuck with it and became a true family. I left from 2013-2016 to move to Austin but missed the camaraderie of China Poblano. I accepted my current position in 2016 and I now oversee all our restaurants at the Cosmopolitan hotel. On my first day back, I was nervous to be back in a new role, but the sight of six veteran staff members that I had hired at the front door waiting for me made it all worth it. Many of them have since been promoted into servers and managers and the culture of acceptance, family and love for hospitality is still strong in the restaurants. I am proud to have had a part in creating that culture and maintaining it.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? I was lucky enough to take a Management of Service Operations class with Elliott Weiss and, since the class was so small, we were able to have great conversations about how to run an organization that excels at service.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Originally, I did not want to come back to the University of VA, since I did my undergraduate work here. However, the case method really drew me in. I enjoy the class discussions surrounding the cases and I felt that it was a more natural way to learn.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I loved the discussions that happened after class, either at dinner or sitting around chatting. It really opened my mind and forced me to consider issues from different angles. As we get older, we don’t have discussions about difficult political and social issues any more, because we surround ourselves with people that have like mindsets (or do not wish to talk about those subjects). I loved the passionate discussions about gender, race, politics and other social issues that we had. I will miss these discussions so much when the program is over.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The biggest lesson I learned was a total mindset shift in thinking about why people behave the way they do. I don’t remember which class it was specifically, but it was something that built through the first portion of the program. I realized that people have different ways they process problems and you cannot analyze them through your own world view. People learn in different ways and process things in different ways, so what works for you might not work for them. It sounds so simple, but if you truly understand it and how that relates to how you manage your staff, it can be life-changing.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I started this program one month after I started my job as Director of Restaurants. Restaurant hours tend to be long, especially if you are trying to learn the ropes. I was working 12-hour days and then coming home to do schoolwork.  I thought I had made a huge mistake, but I ended up being able to fit everything in. Luckily, Accounting was in our first quarter and I was muddling through creating financial forecasts, so I was able to understand how the two correlated.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? I would make sure that you research the teaching methodology of the school and the amount of time that you spend in person. Ultimately, an executive MBA is still about making connections and if you can’t meet your classmates in person, then you are missing out on the best part.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I regret not being in the same city as my classmates as I missed a lot of the social events. I feel as though there are people in the program that I want to have a long conversation with!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire Lisa Lowery – not only does she work full-time for the Navy, but she has two small children and her and her husband were separated due to work locations for almost the whole two years of school! I have no idea how she was able to fit everything in and remain calm and collected.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…my last job had a complete PR crisis that ended up closing the business eventually. I felt that I could have helped keep the business afloat if I knew more about finance, accounting and communication. I started to think about going back to school and this was the impetus.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…still working in the hospitality industry, but I don’t think I would have navigated the difficulties of my current job as well without the leadership and communication classes.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I’d like to open my own hospitality consulting firm. I like helping small-business owners solve problems. I also am interested in the idea of solving company culture and employee retention issues through a hospitality lens. I’m currently working on a program that will teach managers at larger businesses how to build their team and keep their staff engaged by utilizing techniques we use in restaurants. Eventually, I’d like to be able to offer pro-bono advice and classes through the firm to people that are interested in starting their own restaurant or food-truck.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I’d like my peers to remember me as inclusive, collaborative and passionate.

Favorite book:  Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen (It’s really a short story, but it is such a beautiful story written about the transformative powers of a good meal.).

Favorite movie or television show:  Labyrinth

What are the top two items on your bucket list? I’ve always wanted to take the Trans-Siberian railway to Moscow from Vladivostok.  Also, I’d like to see the temple of Angkor Wat.  I got to check the Taj Mahal off the list with Darden last year!

What made Charlotte such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“Since August 2016 when Charlotte joined Darden as a member of the Executive MBA Class of 2018, she has demonstrated a strong level of leadership and engagement. Her diverse (and fascinating) professional background is different than what we typically see, as is her travel to and from Las Vegas, Nevada for her monthly on-grounds residencies. Charlotte currently serves as the Director of Restaurants, Las Vegas for ThinkFoodGroup by Jose’ Andres.  She is responsible for the financial well-being of the restaurants as well as operations, marketing and the people for three Las Vegas-based restaurants: China Poblano, Jaeleo and e’ by Jose’ Andres. She also assists the Director of Hotel Partnerships with financial forecasting and budgets as well as new restaurant openings. With this level of leadership responsibility and diverse experience, her contribution to our case classroom is strong as she continually posed new perspectives for her classmates and faculty.

Charlotte was also a strong contributor to our admissions process. As a member of the Student Admissions Committee, she is an unwavering ambassador for our Executive MBA Program. Never one to say no, she will pivot at a moment’s notice to reach out to a prospective student to answer a question, sponsor a class visit or provide strategic perspective on our recruiting plans.

Charlottes is highly respected by her classmates, faculty and program team. She gets along very well with others, is highly engaged and has been successful balancing her many life responsibilities as well as graduate business school.  We will be proud to claim her as a member of the University of Virginia Darden School alumni tribe after she graduates in May 2018!”

Barbara A. Millar, Assistant Dean

Executive MBA Program


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