Should You Get Your MBA if You Work for a Family Business?

If you’re a member of a family business, you may have grappled with the idea of going back to school for your MBA. It can be a particularly difficult decision when you are forced to weigh the costs and benefits. At the end of the day, before you make your decision you need to answer a simple question: will the MBA program that you’re considering provide you with practical and useful advice that can be directly applied to the betterment of your family business?

We spoke to Joe Astrachan, the Director of the EMBA for Families in Business at Kennesaw State University’s Michael J. Coles College of Business. He explained that typical MBA applicants think about the value added to their career, but family business applicants should think about the value added to the business. “It’s about making your business and your family better,” says Joe.

MBA candidates that come from family businesses also face many unique challenges when considering which program to attend. Choosing the right program is key, or you could end up saying things like, “I don’t see how this applies to me. We’re not interested in those types of activities.” Traditional MBA programs focus on corporations and are far more career-oriented, meaning they’ll focus on teaching you how to increase your value to the company and its bottom line. Family business applicants can have far different goals. “Many family businesses focus on helping the community and helping the families of those who work in their business,” Joe says. “From that perspective, it can be very different.”

So, if you’re working for a family business and you plan to continue working for the family business, what should you look for from potential MBA programs? First, look for programs that focus on privately owned businesses. “You should also be asking questions about the extent to which the program focuses on managerial finance as opposed to corporate finance,” says Joe. “A lot of MBA programs don’t necessarily have a program that helps students understand financials from an internal perspective. You want a program that will help you understand how to make better managerial decisions using finance.” It’s also important to look for MBA programs that focus on teaching governance and business strategy that is directly relatable to family business success.

It’s because MBA candidates who work for family businesses need such specific training and coursework that the Coles College of Business created the EMBA for Families in Business. The Coles MBA program is unique because it focuses on four core areas that are vital to a successful family business MBA program: ownership, governance, managerial finance, and family business strategy.

“Coles has an ownership focus, so we talk to people about how to be good owners,” Joe reveals. For family business candidates, and entrepreneurial focus isn’t enough—that typically focuses on starting a business. If you work for a large family business, you need to talk about more than starting a small business, you need to talk about owning and running a much more significant business.

“Beyond the ownership perspective, Coles also includes governance,” Joe says. “How do you govern not just a business, but how do you manage the ownership group?” Learning about governance in your family business MBA program is key if you want to know what a board should look like and how it should run. And governance is only a part of the equation. Coles also teaches six levels of financial knowledge to help you understand where contribution margins come from and the relationship between cost, volume, and profit. “We take finance further at Coles until our students understand contribution margins per major constraints,” Joe says. “When you understand contribution margins per major constraint, then you can start making really good managerial decisions.”

Finally, your family business MBA program should focus strategically on those areas that make a family business unique. “Coles’ EMBA for Families in Business program stresses things like culture, values, and having a mission—all things that family businesses tend to be better at than non-family businesses.” But at the end of the day, the decision to get your MBA when you work for the family business should come down to one thing, application. “If what’s being taught in your chosen MBA program are things that you can immediately apply in the business to help make better decisions and manage people better, that’s what it’s all about,” Joe says.

To learn more about the Coles EMBA for Families in Business, visit the Coles College of Business website.

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About the Author

Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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