Why go for an MBA when you are going into your family business anyway?

Recently we concluded our Leaders in Family Enterprise class.  With nearly 40 students enrolled, from 1st generation entrepreneurs to 7th generation legacy businesses, we had an amazing diversity of individuals and backgrounds represented. Students were asked to reflect weekly on each speaker or to encapsulate their thoughts from the entire semester.  I’ve taken a few quotes and words shared, either from class, in papers, or spoken directly to myself.

Specific quotes throughout the semester:  

  • “After going through all of the assigned readings prior to class, I am convinced I now want to quit my family business.”
  • “The weekly speaker … was a force of nature and was just so engaging that I would have stayed an extra hour if I had to.”
  • “I shared with the assistant dean how important this course was and that we need more courses like this; it was immediately applicable and completely different than any other course I have taken thus far at Cornell.” 
  • “After hearing this lecture, I think I AM the Fredo in my family. But a good Fredo.”
  • “I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you wholeheartedly for having provided me with so much of perspective related to family managed businesses via your course. The lectures were insightful and taught me many important lessons. I look forward to keeping them in mind once I go back to India and take over my family-managed business.” 
  • “I got a lot more out of this course than I expected to, from both the theory and scholarly study of family business, and the real world experiences and examples from the family business owners and operators who presented to the class.“
  • “As a direct result of this class, and the emphasis that so many of the speakers put on firmly setting succession planning, having open and frank conversations with your family and having clear and stated roles within any family business, I plan to set up a meeting with my Aunt over the summer to do exactly that.”

Reflections on family business: 

Why go for an MBA when you are going into your family business anyway?”. I typically go with a joking response of, “oh… this is a vacation for me (insert awkward chuckle… quickly switch to next topic)”. After all, I could hardly relate to the stresses of what most MBA students go thru of balancing studies with recruiting. There is a misconception of people who work in their family businesses that they have it easy, that everything they got or achieved is because of nepotism. I disagree. While they may balance work and school, we balance work and family 24/7- which I think is infinitely more demanding. Some might argue that one has the benefit of leaving the family business but be secure in having an alternative to fall back on if something does not pan out. Very few people understand the nuances of working for your own family business– the pressure in ensuring that it succeeds and that you do the family name proud. If anything, an MBA is most especially crucial to develop us as better, well-rounded team members and leaders because we are not as privy to criticism or feedback as others who work for companies. Additionally, an MBA is beneficial because it gives us the opportunity to shine for our own actions alone.”

“To be honest, on the first day of this class, I was confused. I thought I understood what a family business was, but when we were going around the classroom and everyone was sharing what their family business was, I became a little self-conscious and was not even sure if what my family had would really count.  What my family has is a 400-acre farm in southern New Hampshire, which my great-grandfather purchased in the 1930s.  On the farm, we make maple syrup, grow hay and raise sheep, but the farm has operated and basically break even or at small losses for really its entire existence.  On the farm, we have one full time farmer who basically runs the operations, and I always viewed the farm as more of a hobby for my mother, my uncle and my grandparents for after they retired. There were some tax benefits of operating a farm, and yes I worked on it during summers as a teenager, but I was never quite sure how to classify it.  However, after going through this class, hearing stories about others’ family businesses, and diving deeper into family business studies, I found a heightened appreciation for what my family has been doing for 80 years, and proudly understand the complexity of our family farm.”

I am left thinking how important this course is, especially for those coming from family businesses. Regardless of age, program of study or cultural background, all students shared a common bond of desiring to understand their role within the family and business more fully. Weekly speakers balanced practice and theory and all displayed brutal honesty in telling their own stories as they related to family business.  Thank you to all the speakers who shared their time and talents for this year’s class.

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