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Banking on Change

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By Bob Woods

Some people hate change, but Charles Lilly (GEMBA ’11) embraces it. “I’ve learned that I’m really comfortable in mayhem,” he readily admits. “If things are very steady and going smoothly, I get nervous. I enjoy chaos. I enjoy the unknown.”

His attitude is pretty bold for a banker working in a traditionally risk-averse environment. Lilly, a vice president and asset resolution officer for PNC in Orlando, Fla., currently lives in a world of rigid laws and regulations as he restructures customers’ debt and bad loans. However, he is anxious to segue into a more chaotic career with fewer boundaries — in the developing African nation of Sierra Leone, no less.

Lilly’s life took this transformative, if unexpected, twist after he was accepted into the Georgetown-ESADE Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) program in 2010. He had reached a lofty executive position at PNC, but he knew an MBA — especially one geared toward people with experience — would boost him even higher. He also had dreamed of graduating from Georgetown since childhood.

Yet a funny thing happened on his way up the corporate ladder. As a GEMBA student, Lilly discovered not only the much larger world out there, but also a new inner self.

“I realized that life was not banking and banking was not life,” he says. “The reasons I applied to Georgetown were no longer why I longed to graduate from Georgetown.”

Perhaps it had something to do with growing up as an only child in Blacksburg, Va., and leading a relatively secluded life, but once his MBA studies took him to far-flung places such as Barcelona, Buenos Aires, and Moscow — while covering four continents and eight countries over 15 months — Lilly’s worldview took flight. “My horizons are now borderless due to my MBA,” he says. “I became comfortable with traveling all over the world and studying different cultures. Cultures may be different, but everybody breathes the same air. As long as you’re adaptable and open to different situations, you can do whatever you want.”

What Lilly wants to do began with an out-of-the-blue phone call from a classmate shortly after graduation. Shaun Gause (GEMBA ’11) had parlayed his dual background in pharmaceutical sales and nonprofit health care to launch Global Group Inc. Gause aimed to establish socially responsible international business ventures, and he wanted to tap into Lilly’s financial know-how.

“Two months later, I was in Sierra Leone,” Lilly says.

Gause wants to partner with public and private entities to create a sustainable aquaculture industry and health care clinics in the coastal nation’s impoverished villages. Gause has also enlisted another classmate, Matthew LaPointe (GEMBA ’11), a naval officer with a strong operational background. Global Group is presently negotiating funding with government agencies and potential investors.

“I am passionate about this project in Sierra Leone,” says Lilly, adding that he ultimately wants to leave banking and pursue it full time. “All I want to see is one clinic opened. Once that happens, and as long as it’s sustainable and replicable, I can’t ask for much more.”

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Click here to access the Winter 2013 Georgetown Business magazine