Wharton | San Francisco Student Transitions from Flying Air Force Drones to Banking

Ryan Nelson always wanted to get an MBA as part of his normal career progression within the Air Force. An MBA seemed like a natural fit given the Air Force’s requirement for a graduate degree and his interest in business. However, due to extenuating circumstances, Nelson’s plans for business school became a top priority sooner than he expected.

After completing pilot training, he was working as a flight instructor when he learned that he needed to assume control of his late father’s real-estate development business. The Air Force was very supportive, allowing him to transfer to Las Vegas where he could fulfill his commitment to the Air Force and run the company in his free time. While Nelson enjoyed working in the business world, he found he was lacking the skills needed to be successful in running a business.

So he began evaluating MBA programs and found that Wharton offered an executive format. Even better was that its location in San Francisco only required a 1.5-hour flight every other weekend.

Now a first-year Wharton EMBA student, Nelson is still an Air Force pilot and spends most of his working hours flying drones in Afghanistan from ground control stations in Las Vegas to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. He also continues to be involved in the family business, although he recently sold the family’s ownership interest in the largest project in order to focus on other opportunities.

“I’m interested in banking and thought that perhaps I’d end up on the private wealth side, but after having been at Wharton, I’m finding more areas that I’m interested in such as investment banking,” he says.

The biggest challenge, he notes, is juggling everything. “This is the first time that most of my classmates and I have had more on our plate than we can possibly handle and it’s neat to see ourselves rise to the occasion. For me, this often means having to prioritize what is feasible and not feasible. Fortunately, I have a supportive wife and kids who understand my busy schedule.”

Nelson adds, “There is no way I could make the transition from Air Force pilot to investment banker without my Wharton education. It sounds cliché, but Wharton has been life changing in every sense. From the alumni and student network to the confidence you gain from classes to time management skills, it’s been incredibly valuable.”