An estimated 80% of all businesses are considered family businesses to some degree. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of business schools offer one or more courses focused on the unique challenges of running a business that means a whole lot more to you than just making money.
If you are already working in a family business, the desire to go to business school can be multi-faceted. It could include considerations such as learning new skills to take back to the business (like data analytics) or learning the basics of business (like accounting, marketing, and operations) as you transition into the company from somewhere else. Other considerations may include building out a new network of contacts that could help drive the business forward. Or maybe you just need to take a sabbatical from an organization that you will likely be working in for the decades to come.
Spending two years in a traditional MBA program may give you the greatest opportunity to learn, build, and play—but perhaps two years away from the business is not a luxury you can afford. After all, how long can you really be away from a business in which you are already playing a pivotal role? Other options could include a one-year program or even a part-time program to allow you to return to the business sooner or never even leave. To help you think through many of these issues, this blog post offers more details on each option.
Full-Time MBA Programs
Here are some of the best full-time MBA programs that have made it a priority to prepare their graduates to run a family enterprise:
The Kellogg School of Management
The John L. Ward Center for Family Enterprises at Kellogg offers courses, conferences, and research focused on family business strategy, governance, succession planning, family business culture, and more. The center aims to build a community for family business operators to share and learn from each other.
Columbia Business School
Through its Global Family Enterprise Program, Columbia offers its students and alumni courses, events, and other educational programs that explore the unique dynamics of an enterprise that is often more than just a business.
Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management
Founded in 2014, Johnson’s Smith Family Business Initiative is all about giving students the network, curriculum, and cutting-edge knowledge to strengthen family businesses and help them to thrive for generations to come. Components of the program include the Family Business Club, courses, speakers’ series, and numerous family business–focused study trips.
The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
Wharton has taken a different approach to the world of family businesses by creating the Wharton Global Family Alliance, which brings together family businesses from across the world to share their own unique issues and struggles. It manifests in a robust community along with research and conferences—feeding the MBA curriculum with a wide range of courses that address the unique challenges of a family business.
The University of North Carolina (UNC) Kenan-Flagler Business School
UNC’s Family Enterprise Center provides support for students who have chosen to focus their learning on running a family enterprise. Resources include specific courses, the Family Business Club, roundtables, workshops, mentoring, and advising.
Other Types of MBA Programs to Consider
Although you may have the desire—and even the funds—to go to business school, you may be lacking one important thing: the time. The idea of taking a couple of years off to learn business in a different way may be especially appealing, but your commitment to your family enterprise simply may not allow for it.
If this is your situation, here are a few MBA programs to consider as you look to develop the skills, knowledge, and relationships to take your business to the next level:
If two years is too long of a commitment for you, a one-year program might be more appealing. Some of the top business schools offer an accelerated curriculum that will still allow you to focus on your family enterprise. For example, Kellogg has a one-year MBA, while Columbia’s J-term program lasts just 16 months.
Compared to 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 other universities across these regions are known for their 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.
Executive MBA Programs
Like one-year programs, many of the top two-year MBA programs also have executive MBA degrees that let you study family businesses in a more flexible way. Another alternative might be programs like Duke Fuqua’s Global Executive MBA, which encompasses six residencies around the world with work in between, or the IE Brown Executive MBA, a joint degree between IE and Brown University that follows a similar format. These programs are uniquely suited to family business folks, who likely have the flexibility to take time away but won’t have to give up vacation or family commitments to enroll.
If even an executive MBA program is too much of a commitment, then check out a certificate program. These programs may only have a few sessions but are highly focused on the issues facing family enterprises. Harvard Business School, for example, offers two programs of differing lengths that tackle these issues: the Owner/President Management program and the shorter Families in Business program.
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 area businesspeople. Although these programs offer all sorts of courses focused on family business, they are also looking to build a community of local businesspeople who face the same unique difficulties in running their own enterprises. In fact, these very people frequently become your future clients, customers, suppliers, and business partners. These programs are generally part time, though some may have a full-time option. Your own city most likely has such programs, but here are a few interesting examples:
- Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University: Atlanta-based Kennesaw is well known in family business studies and research largely due to its Cox Family Enterprise Center, which is one of America’s oldest family business centers.
- D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University: Northeastern’s Center for Family Business is geared toward both business undergraduates and MBA students, and it supports courses, community building, and research focused on family businesses.
- College of Business and Economics at California State University, Fullerton: Cal State Fullerton has its own Center for Family Business, and the group’s mission could not be more explicit: “To create transformative environments, experiences, and opportunities that help leaders thrive in all stages of the family business lifecycle.”
Given the unique challenges of running a business that has closely tied stakeholders—who may have a financial connection as well as an emotional commitment to the business—running a family enterprise is hard. The fact that such businesses frequently face slow growth and have a bias against entrepreneurship just adds another obstacle to be overcome.
There is an old adage about family businesses: members of the founding generation are the risk takers; those in the second generation are the caretakers; and the final generation becomes the undertakers. In the past, working for a family business and getting your MBA seemed to be incompatible goals. However, it’s now becoming clear that pursuing a top-notch business education is one way to avoid being part of the “undertaker” generation. That education can come in many shapes and sizes, with one that might be a perfect fit for you!
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