Unlike George Bernard Shaw, who reportedly said, “youth is wasted on the young,” there is no known tie between age and higher education. Just ask Sonia Nishan Tchayelian.
More than a decade and a half removed from her BS at California State University, Northridge, Sonia opted to get an MBA at Woodbury. The takeaway, as she says, is that you’re never too old to go back to school, regardless of where you are in life, professionally and personally.
“It was the greatest feeling to return to school with work experience under my belt and then apply the course material to my job,” she says. “I knew I was investing my time and effort into myself.” While others understandably go back for career advancement and things like better pay, Sonia’s eyes were on a somewhat different prize: “While my goal was to indeed get promoted, my key objective was to grow from within as a leader.”
Now, as Director of Finance for Pango Group, a family of real estate service businesses across Southern California, Sonia has proven her leadership bona fides. Woodbury was a key element of that transformation, she says. “With individual and group projects, Woodbury helped me improve my presentation skills in various contexts,” Sonia explains. “By thinking differently, I practiced translating details of projects into a story format to the class.” She believes that presentations are a key factor in leadership and has begun executing on this skillset in her field.
Sonia worked full-time during the MBA program while attending Woodbury a few evenings a week and committing weekends to homework. In 2005, she made a serendipitous move after meeting with the controller at Glen Oaks Escrow, who was already scouting around for a successor. In the throes of the real estate meltdown, Glen Oaks prospered. “While other escrow companies had no choice but to shut down, we grew exponentially, which is when the Pango Group was born,” she says. “We are a ‘people-first’ company that puts emphasis on culture and our values. That said, trust is the secret to my longevity. Working for the same company all these years is indeed comforting. At the same time, being exposed to new people and methods helped me come out of my comfort zone, which was itself fun to experience.”
Sonia served as VP of Finance on the board of Woodbury’s MBA Association, where she worked with “four amazing students and our advisor, Verletta Jackson — our strong collaboration made this team a success.” That experience, in turn, helped her test the waters to join other types of boards, so, not surprisingly, she now serves as treasurer on the Pango Foundation board.
In reflecting on the MBA program, Sonia is unstinting in her praise of Dr. Satinder Dhiman, Chair of the MBA Program. “From the first day I met him, I was intrigued by his truth and purpose on campus, which is instilling greatness in ourselves to better serve people and our planet through leadership and sustainability,” she says. “He is one of the wisest people I know, applying ethics to any context. Today, culture is increasingly crucial in companies, ensuring that employee health and happiness are a priority, just as much as the bottom-line. As he always stresses, it starts from within you.”