No, Not MBA, MBWA

Whenever I share my personal backstory, I always include the part about going away for a couple of years to do my MBA.

That’s because it was right after my MBA studies and my return to our family enterprise that big changes occurred for me, thanks to our unexpected liquidity event.

See Finding the Liquidity Sweet Spot for your Family

Instead of the steel fabrication business I was expecting to eventually take over, I ended up running our small family office.

The part of my story that typically gets skipped, however, is that before doing my MBA I was quite busy doing lots of MBWA.

During a recent coaching call with a client, he brought up this term, and it conjured up great memories for me, which I’ll share below.


Nothing Wrong with Doing an MBA

Let’s first dispense with a couple of MBA matters. 

Last year in Getting your MBA to Lead your FamBiz – 5 Things to Consider, I shared some thoughts on the potential value of pursuing MBA studies in advance of taking on a greater role in one’s family enterprise.

Looking back now, I regret one key word choice I made, right there in the headline.

I’ve long tried to make the distinction that I “did” my MBA, and I didn’t simply “get” and MBA.

Trust me, in the program I was in, there was a great deal of “doing”.

To me, “getting” an MBA makes it sound like something you grab off a shelf.

My bias is that too many people “get” their MBA, while not enough actually “do” their MBA, but maybe that’s just the boomer in me.


Wandering Back to the MBWA Discussion

When I was in the first 3 years of my career in our business, which I entered right after my undergrad, I quickly determined that the most important thing I was supposed to do was to learn the business.

I had some vaguely defined roles and tasks related to marketing and then scheduling production and reporting contract status to customers, but the main thing I felt I was supposed to do is figure out how everything worked.

Because I had the same name as the founder, along with a “Jr.” appended to the end, there was literally no place I could not go.

I learned a ton doing that, yet felt like I was wasting a lot of time being unproductive. Until, that is, the book In Search of Excellence came out.

When I read it and learned that “Management By Wandering Around” (MBWA) was actually a thing, it was a true Eureka moment for me.

I felt legitimized.


Sibling Partners with Different Styles

Then a few weeks ago, while on a coaching call with one of two siblings who are learning to co-lead the business they’ve recently taken over from their father, the younger one surprised me.

The book I referred to came out early in my career, well before these current clients were even born, and now I was hearing something about “I wish my sibling would learn to do more Managing by Wandering Around, like I do”.

You can imagine the smile this put on my face, as I shared much of what I wrote above.

So let’s close out by looking at what can be gained by adding a bit of MBWA to roles in one’s family enterprise.


See and Be Seen

When you wander around your business, you see a lot of things that you otherwise might not notice if you just sat comfortably in your office.

And not only do you see things and people, people also see you

Connecting with your people is something that often gets overlooked, and the work from home trend that Covid imposed certainly had an impact on this.

Being seen as caring about your people and interacting with them and perhaps even speaking with customers are all important parts of running a business.


Working In the Business and On the Business

Then there’s the part about not only working in your business, but also working on your business

That was the point my client was making regarding their sibling and the responsibility to be overseeing the business and not just doing the job of being one of the cogs.

Wandering around, and managing while doing so, is a way to kind of do both at the same time.

There are opportunities to learn, and also to teach, and more people should probably be doing more of it.