To Robert Chalfin, his role in Wharton’s EMBA program goes beyond teaching. On any class weekend on either coast, it’s common to find him having meals with students or chatting during class breaks. He also enjoys staying in touch with alumni.
“I don’t see teaching as compartmentalized to just the classroom, and I want students and alumni to know that I am accessible. Engaging with them improves how I teach,” he said.
We asked him to tell us more about teaching and what he hopes students get out of his classes.
When did you start teaching in the EMBA program?
I went to Wharton, and received a Bachelor of Science in Economics and a Master of Science in Accounting. I went to law school at Rutgers University. After law school, I opened up a legal practice in New Jersey. I began teaching at Wharton as a lecturer in 1990 and love every minute of it. Over the years, I have shifted my practice to advisory services related to the purchase and sale of businesses, strategic planning-restructuring, and the valuations of closely held businesses. Currently, when I am not teaching, I spend most of my time with various business investments.
What classes do you teach EMBA students?
I teach two electives on both coasts: Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition and Real Estate Entrepreneurship. I teach what I do, and I do what I teach.
What do you like about teaching EMBA students on both coasts?
EMBA students add so much to the learning experience because of their diverse experiences and backgrounds. They have a genuine desire to learn. I enjoy getting to know them and care about them as people. I try to learn something about every student before the first day of class to help us connect, and I make sure they know I am approachable. That could mean chatting at meals, sitting down in the lounge outside of class, or scheduling an advisory session. During the pandemic, I hosted optional virtual happy hours for students.
A perk of this job is hearing from at least one former student a day. They often contact me for job advice or just to connect and share a life event like the birth of a child. I really enjoy staying in touch with alumni.
What do you want students to get out of your classes?
First, I want them to believe in themselves and know that they have the abilities to do this. Second, I want them to know that ethics are more important than any fortune they will ever amass. Third, if they don’t know something, there are enough people at Wharton — including myself, other faculty, and students — who can help them or know someone who can help them. Fourth, they should spend time helping other people. It’s important to give back in some fashion.
What types of students usually take your classes?
Anyone who has an overt or latent intent to become an entrepreneur, or who wants to develop real estate or invest in a privately-held business in addition to their full-time occupation. I have everyone in my classes from potential entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and bankers to lawyers, engineers, teachers, athletes, and veterans. I also welcome family members to my classes. To me, that means a student is enjoying their experience and wants to share it with their partner.
What advice do you have for incoming students?
Focus on learning as much as possible and developing long-term relationships with everyone, including students, faculty, and staff. Realize that this is a tremendous opportunity to learn, meet people, and develop yourself. You can broaden your knowledge, open new vistas, challenge your intellect, and improve the lives of everyone around you.
What is something about you that might surprise your students?
This isn’t a big surprise because I tell students this right away, but I am a huge baseball fan. I am a minority investor with three minor league baseball teams. I’ve also been known to go to baseball games with students.
—By Meghan Laska
Posted: November 15, 2021