Making a Mid-Career Pivot with the Advanced Finance Program


Suzanne Ley spent more than 15 years in corporate and investment banking when she decided she needed a new challenge. “The dynamics of the banking industry started to change in recent years and, being a naturally curious person and already actively engaged in the venture community, I knew mid-career that I needed to advance my education journey,” Ley says. “I completed my MBA in 2004, and in order to move to the next level and make a successful career pivot, I had to acquire new skills and tools.”

Suzanne Ley

Ley, now lead business development manager with Lumen Digital Ventures, was not alone, although she was ahead of the curve when she began the process in mid-2020. The pandemic, like other life-altering shocks, has caused many in the workforce to question their career path and life goals. Over 40 percent of those who responded to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, a global survey of over 30,000 people, are thinking about leaving their employer this year. Making a move that makes sense, though, requires thought, planning, and education. 

“I am a big follower of Tony Robbins,” says Ley, “and one of his key phrases for growth and change is about making something a Must. If it’s anything less than that, you probably won’t do it. I got to the point where I knew I wanted to make a pivot and education became a Must.”

“When I started looking for opportunities, I quickly found Wharton’s Venture Capital program,” says Ley. “I assumed it would be high quality, in terms of the content and the faculty, even though it was only offered online at the time. The live online format was new for everyone, and Wharton transitioned really well. The students especially were really engaged in the new ecosystem. Of course, there are tradeoffs between online and in-person learning, but I was encouraged by everyone, the Wharton faculty and staff, as well as the students, to make the learning experience as positive as possible.” 

The live online format was new for everyone, and Wharton transitioned really well. The students especially were really engaged in the new ecosystem.

She says it was during that week that she first heard about the Advanced Finance Program (AFP), which includes six individual classes. “Many of the other students were raving about their experience in it. At that time no one had attended all of their programs online or completed the AFP through the virtual platform, but the key selling point for me to continue past Venture Capital was the incredible support staff and the high level of engagement from the other students. Wharton’s staff made it so easy as a working professional to complete the program in what was then [August 2020] a unique online environment. It was great to be able to engage with people from diverse industries who come at the world with different lenses.” 

“I would certainly like to attend an in-person class at Wharton in the future to get a different learning experience, but I was able to make meaningful connections that are already paying dividends,” Ley says. “You can form connections no matter the platform.”

The “Stars Aligned” with Online Education

“Last year taught me the importance of flexibility and how we all have to be more agile,” says Ley, who also works as a startup advisor, board member, and angel investor. “Everyone’s life turned upside down, and there was no commuting, networking events, or conferences. You had to find new sources of professional engagement and growth, and get smarter about remaining relevant while working from home.”

She says Wharton and the AFP provided a “great conduit to engage me mentally and professionally — the ability to complete the program online was positive. It was something I had wanted to do for a while but never made the time. All the stars aligned: I was fortunate to have had the resources and the time to make it happen.”

Online Education

Mid-Career Learning

Ley highlights two important reasons for completing a comprehensive program like the AFP. “An MBA was essential to help me navigate the early years of my career. But as I gained more seniority, started making more strategic decisions, and was required to make more impactful decisions, I needed a new toolkit to achieve optimal outcomes. I think of Wharton’s AFP as an MBA part two.”

“The second reason for completing the program is that everyone you meet is dealing with the same challenges and is at a similar point in their career path. We all have to make decisions about whether something is a good or a bad deal, or whether to buy or sell a company. The level of discussions is very different from those you have in an MBA program.”

“I encourage everyone who is considering the AFP to think about where they are in their career. If you need new tools to get to next level, are struggling with decisions, or want to make a pivot, this is an opportunity to make the changes you are looking for,” Ley says. “It’s so easy to go on autopilot in your career, but this acts as a reset. It sparks new interests, introduces you to new people, and recharges your battery.” 

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