Wharton EMBA Program Helps Navy Officer Transition to Corporate World

After almost a decade in the U.S. Navy, Lieutenant Charles Pell was starting to consider other career options besides the military. However, leaving active duty and then spending two years back in school full time to transition to the corporate world wasn’t that appealing. He didn’t want to put his life in California on hold in order to find a new career.

Instead, Pell, who earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and was familiar with Wharton — and knew other officers who had attended Wharton’s executive MBA program — decided to apply to that program at Wharton | San Francisco.

“I had absolutely no idea what area I wanted to work in after I left the Navy and knew that Wharton would provide me with exposure to a lot of different industries. And the other officers who had gone through the program said they got a tremendous amount out of the program,” he says, noting that he continued to serve as a naval flight officer while attending Wharton.

During the program, Pell leveraged the experience of his classmates to learn about their industries and roles. “It was really helpful to talk things out with my classmates and ask them for advice on career options. They had so many different experiences that I didn’t have because I had been in the Navy and that is in many ways a different world,” he says.

But just as he was really getting into the job search mode, Pell was unexpectedly called to serve in Afghanistan for six months where he coordinated air travel around the country for high-ranking U.S. and Afghan officials.

“Resuming at Wharton six months later wasn’t that disruptive relative to the overall disruption in my life. But it did throw off my career search because the plans I had made for job hunting were tossed around,” says Pell, who ended up graduating with the class of 2008 instead of 2007 as originally planned.

His first job after school was in investment banking, but he quickly discovered that he wasn’t on the right career path for him. So he left to work at a small, early-stage startup. “That was when having my Wharton classmates with real world experience in technology and entrepreneurship was really helpful because I could talk to them about the challenges and issues. And I realized exactly how much I learned at Wharton because I was filling all sorts of roles at that startup and was required to think about the business much more broadly than might have been necessary at other companies,” he recalls.

After more than a year at the startup, he turned to his classmates again for career guidance. “As I described the company’s strategy as well as my role within the organization, my classmates helped me clarify that it was time to leave,” says Pell, who last year joined salesforce.com, an enterprise cloud computing company, as a manager in the marketing operations and analytics group in San Francisco.

“I’m really applying the knowledge I gained at Wharton on a daily basis, particularly with the quantitative analyses that I provide. It is a work environment where it’s important to have a broader perspective. I need to be able to take a broadly defined problem, identify the business metrics I can bring to bear, perform the analysis, and present my conclusion in a coherent and succinct way to my business partners. Refining all of that is based on what I learned at Wharton,” he says.

Looking back over the past few years, Pell attributes his ability to transition out of the military and find a career that is a good fit for him to his Wharton education. He says, “If I hadn’t gone to Wharton, I probably would have stayed in the defense industry or a government contracting role. Wharton built on the foundation of leadership skills I learned in the Navy, and gave me the confidence and skill set to enter new industries and work at a higher level than I would have been able to otherwise. My Wharton education has definitely opened doors that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.”