When Flora Chang, WG’19, was in college, she envisioned a career in healthcare. With a passion for chemistry, she became a pharmacist. However, when her husband’s family purchased land in California, her career took a major pivot. She’s now co-proprietor of Nine Suns Winery in the Napa Valley with her husband. After seeing the value that her husband’s and sister-in-law’s MBAs brought to the business, Flora decided to pursue her own degree at Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives in San Francisco. In her second year, her life became even busier when she and her husband welcomed their first child.
She explained that the business started out relatively small, only producing grapes for other producers. The grape business could be managed remotely from their location in New York. “However, once we realized the potential for developing the land into more, we moved from New York to oversee the construction of the winery,” explained Flora. “Today, we manage strategy, operations, hospitality, marketing and everything else involved in running a winery.”
As the business grew, so did her interest in an MBA. “My husband has an MBA and I saw how versatile that education is because he can take on anything. I wanted to develop business skills that would help us grow our luxury brand. And I wanted to learn how to become a better manager and more efficient operator,” she said.
Flora came to Wharton’s EMBA program in San Francisco because of the School’s reputation. She said, “The brand speaks for itself and the network is huge. Also, my husband’s MBA focused on consumer-packaged goods and marketing, and Wharton has a strong reputation in the finance and quantitative sectors. I wanted us to have complementary skill sets.”
In her second year, Flora became pregnant with their first child. She knew juggling the winery, school and a new baby wouldn’t be easy, so she took a few steps to prepare.
Preparing to Juggle School, Work, and a Baby
First, Flora and her husband discussed expectations. “I wanted to make sure that I could commit to finishing the program strong because I had already put so much time, energy, and finances into the program,” she said. “I didn’t want to take a break and lose my momentum.”
They also talked about delegating work responsibilities at the winery. “We share work responsibilities, so we arranged it so that I could do much of my work for the winery at home and he took on more of the duties that require him to be physically onsite.”
To make these plans work, the couple hired additional childcare help.
After the baby was born, Flora realized she needed to revise some of her plans. She explained, “I saw that being at home isn’t always conducive to studying. So, when my husband is home with the baby, I go to a coffee shop and spend a few hours trying to get as much school work done as possible. I also study when the baby sleeps. It takes a lot of willpower and discipline, but I’ve become more efficient because of the time constraints.”
Another change after the baby was born was a greater need for sleep. “The social aspect of this program is remarkable because the students are all interesting and from very diverse backgrounds. While I have to reserve some of the time I would have spent socializing for sleep, my classmates are very supportive, and we are finding other times to get together. Some of them are coming to the winery next month.”
Helping to Grow a Business
As for her business, Flora says that her Wharton education is adding value in many ways.
“Originally, I operated from intuition. Now, I’ve learned how to analyze things more critically and have better decision-making tools. For example, if I improve A by 5%, then the benefit to my business is 3%. If I improve E by 5%, the benefit to my business is 20%. These tools help us make decisions in real time for the winery,” said Flora. “I’ve also become better at understanding our finances. Before, I would look at our accounting and intuitively say if something was good or bad. Now, I can look line by line and see where improvements can be made.”
Flora noted that her management skills have improved too. “We have a small team and learning about approaches to management have been very beneficial. I’m not operating off the cuff anymore. I can be more deliberate about strategies when I interact with employees, vendors, and contractors.”
She added, “My education has impacted every aspect of our business. We operate like a startup, so everything I learn in school is applied to improve and grow the winery. It is challenging to juggle everything, but Wharton has been very supportive and worthwhile.”
Posted: April 3, 2019