What’s the value of an MBA for family business management? In this post, Harry Santoso shares why he decided it was time to get an MBA, how he got his family board to see the value in this decision, how he’s been managing his time, and what he’s learned so far.
Harry, could you share about your family business & background?
My family is in the scrap metal trading (Examples of commodities that we deal with include aluminium scrap, copper scrap, stainless steel scrap, etc) and aluminium ingot manufacturing business. Our main export markets are Asian countries (e.g. China, India, Japan, Middle East, South Korea).
After I completed my undergraduate studies in accounting and finance, I immediately joined the family business. Since it was a family business, some job functions were customized and there is sometimes no clear-cut separation of duties. I was more involved in the general management, logistic planning, and marketing, because those three responsibilities are the core of the business. As the job functions imply, it involves frequent travel, overtime, and dealing with various kind of people, from warehouse staff right up to government officials or top management. While technical accounting and finance skills were useful to evaluate reports, certain soft-skills, such as influence, negotiation, communication, effective wielding of authority are very important too.
We heard that you had to persuade your family when you decided to take an MBA. How did that happen, and what made you think of an MBA in the first place?
I came from traditional family that values meritocracy, therefore both academic and career excellence are deeply emphasized. Everything is negotiable provided I can put forward a convincing argument that what I am doing is generating value. Even though my family board did have some hesitation in letting me pursue an MBA, they finally relented because I explained to them that an MBA is a long term intellectual and social investment.
Businesses operate in an ever-changing environment, and therefore assumptions and methodologies may change over time. An MBA program does not merely teach me about theories, but solid frameworks, which are more meaningful and applicable to business world. In addition to that, MBA is an excellent opportunity to forge relationships with similar-minded aspiring business people. Even in the midst of work I would at times feel lost and helpless – and having strong business intellectual and networking acuity will help when I encounter these kinds of uncertainties. On a final note, a family business is after all, a business too. It has same objectives and sense of mission as other major corporations. By learning how to allocate resources effectively, and apply our knowledge into practice, family business value can be enhanced.
Why NUS? And why Singapore?
My foremost priority was that the MBA program be offered in Asia. An MBA experience is not limited to classroom interaction–by studying and living in Asia, I obtained insights into the broader Asian environment. Due to increased globalization and shift of power from West to Asia, I believe that Asia has terrific opportunities for me. Singapore with its international exposure offered the perfect blend of values that I have sought. Moreover, Singapore is real close to my hometown and it is very convenient for me to go back and look after family business once in a while.
Photo credit: Luca Sartoni
My next consideration was that the MBA program should have a good reputation comprising a rigorous curriculum, distinguished faculty members, and excellent market acceptance. In a dynamic business world, we don’t need static theories to explain what SHOULD works; rather, we need a framework to explain WHY it works under different possible circumstances. I had looked through every major business school’s curriculum and read through the module outlines, and amongst these business schools, NUS MBA modules are most impactful and pragmatic. The modules offered are meaningful, there was no wastage in terms of duplication of materials, and most importantly, the aim of the topics are very synchronized: it answers the key concerns of every businesses. Secondly, I believe that good curriculum will be of less value if not communicated and taught by experienced faculty members. Upon seeing that some of NUS faculty members have teaching excellence awards and distinguished dissertation, my confidence with NUS was boosted. Lastly, upon considering NUS Business School publicity in various websites such as FT, The Economist, and The Straits Times, I applied to NUS without further hesitation.
How you will be managing your work while taking the MBA? Any tips?
For the purposes of this MBA, I was allowed to take a temporary break from my career. However, I still need to review company’s basic report on routine basis. I require my staff to send me a daily report set which consists of the consolidated inventory report, consolidated purchase report, and export book. These three reports are the most basic reports that I require to stay up-to-date. In addition to that, I require that every email correspondence between my company and customers should be cc’ed to me so that I can monitor the business operations–if something is not good enough, I will be able to step in & correct it.
To manage this, I made a commitment to myself: whenever I am in class or class discussion, I will devote my full attention and energy to study and MBA peers, However, at night I will spend approximately one hour to review the reports and emails. In addition to that, to help alleviate the work pressure, my father will temporarily take over my core job responsibilities, whereas for non-core responsibilities, I have to delegate to staff.
What were your first impressions of NUS MBA? Is there anything you’ve learned so far?
The NUS MBA’s rigorous curriculum and distinguished faculty members match, if not exceed, my expectations. In the NUS MBA, it is not all about studying, but also about gaining insights and networking. I have been in the MBA program for a month or so, but I have been exposed to various activities, talks, networking, and events; all of which are beyond my original expectation. The experiences I have obtained so far has been rich. One of these was the mock networking event. We were tasked to network, and at first we had no idea that we were going to be assessed! After the mock networking session, there was sharing of insights, feedback, as well as networking pitfalls, which is valuable, because in a real environment, sometimes it is not easy to obtain fair and reliable feedback.
Could an MBA help boost your capabilities for managing a family business? Find out more about the NUS MBA Programme and its Curriculum here.
Interested in finding out more about family businesses in Asia?
In this Think Business video, Dr William Fung shares how Hong Kong-based MNC Li & Fung transformed from a Chinese family-owned business to one with 37,000 staff in 48 economies.
The Centre for Governance, Institutes and Organisations at NUS also publishes reports on the Governance of Family Businesses.
The Asian Family Business Programme is run by Executive Education here at NUS.