All in the Family


Visits to an assortment of family-owned businesses around the globe are not staples in a typical…

Georgia (Sep 19, 2012)

Visits to an assortment of family-owned businesses around the globe are not staples in a typical MBA curriculum. But for the 25 Kennesaw State University students pursuing the Executive MBA for Families in Business, traveling all over the planet to visit a flower farm in Colombia, a flooring manufacturer in South Africa and an energy bar manufacturer in San Francisco offered them a rare opportunity to learn about the challenges that family-owned businesses face.
“Visiting family companies gives you the flavor for how each family instills its way of conducting business in their own companies,” says Venezuelan banker Nelson Dao, who most recently traveled to Duisburg, Germany, with his 11 classmates. “Since there is no perfect recipe for family business success, from those visits you learn what those families have used to be fruitful and effective.”
Business schools by and large do not offer MBA programs or special curriculums for family business executives. And even among the handful of b-schools that do, the executive MBA for family business executives offered by the Michael J. Coles College of Business is a rare breed.
Students enrolled in the highly selective program circle the globe for nine, six-day residencies that include visits to the businesses run by their classmates in their home countries, as well as sit in on courses on product positioning, governance and family dynamics. Before they graduate, participants must complete three major projects, including an in-depth analysis of their family company and a personal development plan. All throughout, the focus is on family businesses –– not on mom and pop operations, but on businesses that can be as large as SC Johnson and Ford
Motor Co. that are majority-owned by family members.
“You just cannot find an MBA that will discuss how family relationships affect the company and what is the best way to work with family members,” says Michael Cotton, who has played various roles in his family’s health care business since it was created in 1997. “The family dynamics lectures almost become therapy sessions where you are forced to analyze yourself and realize your own faults as well as your strengths.”
Cotton, who graduated in May, says the program has given him the tools “to continue to work on myself as an individual, as a family member and as a leader in the family company.”
Kristi McMillan, director of the Cox Family Enterprise Center at the Coles College of Business, teaches classes on family cohesion, sibling relationship and conflict resolution.
“We weave the family dynamic perspective into everything we teach so that students are always considering how to balance long-term family health with long-term business success,” she explains. “When this is done over many generations, these two views are not opposing but reinforcing.”
Although some of the students in the program already have completed an MBA, Kennesaw State’s MBA for families in business adds value to their education, with students learning things they have not learned before.
“They teach you how to be an owner, to think strategically as an owner, to act as an owner in order to preserve the legacy and continuity of your family business,” says Dao, who has an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. “That is not taught in a regular MBA.”
There are indeed many differences between multigenerational family-owned businesses and public companies, says Wachovia Eminent Scholar Chair of Family Business Joseph Astrachan, executive director of the Cox Family Enterprise Center. For starters, family-owned businesses think more long term than businesses not owned by family members, use less debt and are slower to lay off employees.
“The financial logic of public companies, thinking in terms of quarterly results, does not fit well with that of family-owned businesses,” explains Astrachan. “Most family companies think long term, so they have to think differently when it comes to their finances. Survival tends to be the ultimate goal, as opposed to quarterly profits. So when it comes to an MBA, these executives need a curriculum that reflects the realities of family businesses.”

-- Aixa Pascual


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit