East Meets West: Wharton EMBA Alum Charla Serbent Talks about Commuting from Shanghai

Charla Serbent graduated from Wharton’s EMBA program in 2007, but the journey she took to earn her Wharton MBA degree was unique.  During her last semester in the EMBA program, she became the general manager of Asia Pacific for industrial coatings for PPG Industries, which required her family to move from Pittsburgh to Shanghai. As a result of that move, she also needed to switch from the School’s East Coast campus in Philadelphia to the West Coast campus in San Francisco.

The flexibility to switch campuses was part of what attracted her to Wharton’s program. “I had a pretty high degree of certainty that sometime during the program I would change jobs and locations,” she explains. “When I was looking at schools, I thought, ‘Why make a compromise and pick a closer school when I could be moving soon anyway and I can commute to Wharton from anywhere?’”

She adds, “It was difficult to find time in my career to get an MBA because I had been working for quite a while and had 330 employees, managing all of North America. So I wanted to get an MBA at a school where I felt it was worth taking the time to do it and the fact that there were two coasts for Wharton’s program meant I could commute without too much difficulty even if I moved to Europe or Asia.”

In fact, Serbent says that switching coasts during the program was pretty simple. “The faculty and staff were very supportive and it ended up being the perfect balance because I could complete by MBA without having to take time off or pass up a great career opportunity.”

And joining new classmates at Wharton West wasn’t a problem. “It’s a tight community, but I jumped in right away and was welcomed into my study group and project teams,” says Serbent.

As for the long commute from Shanghai, she admits that it wasn’t easy. “Any time you make the decision to do something like work – especially with a job that requires a lot of travel — and do a challenging MBA program, you are making the decision that you will have a challenging schedule for the next two years, but it’s worth the opportunity cost.”

Looking back, she says it was all worthwhile. “I had moved into a fairly large position with my company with a lot of employees, but I had been learning things like management and financial concepts bit by bit the hard way because my background was engineering. Wharton’s EMBA program provided a great framework,” she says.