MBAnalysis Blog: Part of a Family Business? An MBA is Right for You! (Part 2)

While you may have the desire – and even the funds – to go to business school, you may be lacking one important thing: the time. While the idea of taking a couple of years off to learn business in a different way may be especially appealing, your commitment to your family enterprise simply may not allow for it.

For this reason, here a few MBA programs to consider as you look to develop the skills, knowledge and relationships to take your business to the next level.

1. One Year Programs.

In the last blog post, we spoke about some of the top two-year programs for students focused on family business. If two years is too long a commitment, how about one year? It turns out, some of these programs have an option for an accelerated curriculum that will still allow you to focus on family enterprises. For example, Kellogg and Cornell, have one-year MBAs, while Columbia’s J-term program lasts 16 months.

2. Go Abroad.

More so than the United States, Europe and Asia have an even higher concentration of family businesses. For this reason, many international programs have a specific focus on running a family enterprise. IE, INSEAD, London Business School, and universities from Singapore to Germany, all are known for outstanding curricula in family business operation. And most are one-year programs, giving you an opportunity for a real adventure that takes you away from your business for half the time.

3. Executive MBAs.

Like with the one-year programs, many of the top two-year MBA programs also have Executive MBAs that lets you study family businesses in a more flexible way. Another alternative might be programs like Duke’s GEMBA (five residencies around the world with work in between) or the IE Brown Executive MBA which has a similar format. Family business folks are uniquely suited for these programs because they likely have the flexibility to take time away without having to eat through vacation or family commitments.

4. Certificate Programs.

If even an executive MBA program is too much of a commitment, then check out a certificate program. These are programs that may only meet a few sessions but are highly focused on the issues facing family enterprises. Harvard Business School, for example, has not one but two programs (of differing lengths) that try to tackle this issue including the Owner/President Program, and the shorter, Families in Business Certification Program.

5. Regional Programs.

Some of the strongest programs with a focus on family business, are small local programs that were created specifically to cater to the needs of local business people. While these programs have all sorts of courses focused on family business, they are also looking to build a community of local business people who face the same unique difficulties in running their own enterprises. In fact, it is frequently these very people who become your future clients, customers, suppliers, and business partners. These programs are generally part-time, though some may have a full-time option. While your own city most likely has such programs, here a few of the more interesting examples of programs you may find by you.

a. Meredith College. Though known as being fine, women’s college in Raleigh, North Carolina, its co-educational business school has begun to focus on the intersection between entrepreneurship and family-run enterprises. To this end, Meredith has just started a concentration in Entrepreneurship and Family Business.

b. Kennesaw State University, Coles College of Business. The Atlanta-based Kennesaw is well known in the family business studies and research world. That’s largely due to the Cox Family Enterprise Center which is one of America’s oldest centers for family business studies and research.

c. D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. The university’s Center for Family Business is geared for both business undergraduates and MBA students, the Center supports courses, community-building, and research focused on family businesses. It is also responsible for FAMBIZ, a website that pulls together a wide range of resources for those running their own family enterprises.

d. Mihaylo College of Business and Economics at California State University, Fullerton has its own Center for Family Business. Its mission could not be more explicit, “to use education to help family businesses in our region grow and prosper and to keep harmony in the family.” I love the “keep harmony in the family,” because frequently this may be the most difficult part of running a family business and making it successful.

In the past, the idea of working for a family business, and getting your MBA was seen as incompatible. The truth may be the exact opposite: given the unique challenges of running a business that has closely tied stakeholders — who may not just have a financial connection but an emotional commitment to the business — makes running such a business hard. Add the fact that such businesses frequently face slow growth, with a bias against entrepreneurship, just adds another obstacle to be overcome.

There is an old adage about family businesses: The founding generation are the risk-takers; the second generation are the caretakers; while that final generation are the undertakers. What is now becoming clear is that one way that you can avoid being part of the “undertaker generation” is by pursuing top-notch business education. That education that can come in many shapes and sizes, with one, no doubt, being right for you.