Ex-Adcoms Launch MBA Consulting Firm

by John A. Byrne on

Matt Symonds, co-director of Fortuna

The business school admissions consulting business just became even more competitive.

In a move that will surely raise the eyebrows of MBA admissions officials, a half dozen former gatekeepers from highly ranked schools have gotten together with the founder of the World MBA Tour to launch a new consulting firm aimed at business school candidates.

The firm, Fortuna Admissions, brings together admissions pros from Wharton, INSEAD, Chicago Booth, London Business School, and UC Berkeley Haas. Their differentiation is clear: to bring to applicants the inside knowledge of the admissions offices that once employed them.

GROUP SAYS IT KNOWS ‘THE INSIDE TRACK’

“We have been gatekeepers to the world’s best business schools, and have personally reviewed tens of thousands of applications from candidates all over the world,” explains Caroline Diarte Edwards, who stepped down as director of MBA admissions at INSEAD in April. “We also shaped admissions policy, devised the application processes, and had the final say on who got in. We know the inside track – what goes on behind the closed doors of Admissions Committees, how your candidacy will stand up versus the competition, and how you can best maximize your chances of gaining a coveted place on a top MBA program.”

The firm is largely the brainchild of Matt Symonds, a long-time player in the MBA market who will serve as a co-director of the partnership. Symonds started the Kaplan Test Prep franchise in Europe in the early 1990s and then founded what is now known as the QS World MBA Tour which he ran for nearly ten years before selling his stake to his partner Nunzio Quacquarelli. He also is the author of ‘The MBA Admissions Edge.’

Symonds, who is based in Paris, said that the firm would function like a “law firm partnership” with an initial team of about 10 coaches and two support staff. Besides Edwards from INSEAD, the core group includes Judith Silverman Hodara, former acting director of MBA admissions at Wharton; Pete Johnson, former executive director of MBA admissions at UC-Berkeley’s Haas School; Rose Martinelli, former director of MBA admissions at Chicago Booth; Emma Bond, former senior manager of MBA marketing and admissions of the London Business School, and Lisa Bevill, former director of MBA admissions at IE Business School in Spain. Martinelli will serve as an “expert advisor” to Fortuna and maintain her full-time role at Huron Consulting, an educational consultancy.

The group also includes some coaches who come from other parts of the business school world. Malvina Miller Complainville, formerly Harvard Business School’s associate director of career services, will put students through their paces for interview prep as well as help them convey their MBA goals, for example.

CLAIMS A ‘PRIVILEGED NICHE IN THE MARKET’

In an interview with Poets&Quants, Symonds said he believes the firm will compete on the basis of “the quality of the people I’m working with and the inside insight that they have. I wouldn’t feel we had this privileged niche in the market without this dream team beside me. They have proven themselves to be champions of the applicants. They are not cold and detached. They have a real coaching gift, and they have a sense for what makes a candidate fall short. And our international dimension helps. The majority of the big players, like Clear Admit and Stacey Blackman, are fairly U.S. based. With officials from INSEAD, London and IE on our team, we have international depth.”

Though several other admission firms also boast having former admission officials as staff, Fortuna is the only entrant in the field that is solely organized around the idea of bringing internal expertise to candidates (see The Revolving Door in Business School Admissions). The only other firm that has signed up a significant number of former business school officials as consultants is Chicago-based The MBA Exchange. On its roster of consultants The MBA Exchange boasts nine former admissions officers, 23 former student admissions committee (adcom) members, and four former contract professionals who reviewed applications or interviewed applicants for business schools.

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  • Stacy Blackman

    I would like to correct Matt Symonds: My company, Stacy Blackman Consulting, is not “fairly U.S. based” by any means. I am not sure where that information was obtained but clearly not from me or anyone on my team. We have experts from many international schools on my team as well as ex ad-comm. We successfully work with clients all over the world, applying to schools all over the world, and have been for 11 years.

    Sincerely,
    Stacy Blackman, (not “Stacey”)

  • pengyou

    Personally I agree with the article, Stacy Blackman doesn’t seem so international.

    I live at the other side of the Pacific and tried to use their services. It was a complete hassle to schedule a phone-call. In the end they even gave up and stopped contacting me.
    I think that is something anyone can verify, just contact them to set up a meeting and you will see for yourselves.

    PS: Stacy (assuming you are the real Stacy) I can easily forward you the emails if you need to convince yourself

  • Mark Babst

    Stacy Blackman consulting is mediocre at best, yet it is priced as high as the better firms. Their consultants are not as dedicated as many applicants need to get through the process and produce success. If you want a glitzy high priced firm then use them, if you want someone dedicated to making a difference then look around a little more.

  • Stacy Blackman

    I usually do not engage in comments like this but I felt I should set the record straight regarding an incorrect statement about my company.
    Now I will also say this: we have never worked with anyone named Mark Babst.
    I will lay off the comments now, and go do the real work that needs to be done, with our clients. However, if anyone questions the quality of the work we do or our commitment to clients, I invite you to speak directly with someone from my team and learn how we operate and produce amazing results for our applicants.

  • Karla Hurtado

    I’m beginning to think the b-schools should eliminate the essays.

  • Louis

    So what pengyou said is true then. I guess international students should just go to someone else for help.

  • Kip

    I’m impressed that P&Q has kept the negative comments without deleting them. It’s a credit to the website that they are balanced. But that said, it’s a real shame that we have consultants who have now made this into a nice game. Pay 7k and sit back and relax. Everything will be taken care of. Great!

  • Dan

    And consultants.

  • Joey

    I don’t like people that hide behind “internet anonymity” and attack a business or a person. It’s not fair or credible. So I don’t think those comments about your service are credible at all. But I do think that by you responding to those comments, you are giving it more legitimacy. Also, it’s quite obvious that consultants are the ones playing this game on the forums. Each one is bad mouthing the other (I’m not saying all are doing this) in different ways to attract business. I have seen this in the gmat forums as well.

  • Matt H

    Argeed 100%
    I think it could all be done by applications (-essays) and interviews. I think it is going to be interesting to see if more schools begin to use multimedia content including video responses on their applications. I read an interesting article where the school had questions pop up and the applicant had 2 minutes to answer the question in a video response. That would eliminate a lot of what the consultants can do for applicants.

  • Kelser Rodriguez
  • Miami Phil

    The whole system is gamed anyway..it’s just that now the inmates are in–charge of the asylum.

  • chris

    I finally wrapped up my experience with Stacy Blackman and can now post my review. It’s hard to think back to my mindset when I was trying to figure out how to hire an admissions consultant. It feels like so long ago. I came to forums like this and reached out to the leading admissions consulting firms for the free consultations. There is a ton of information out there on other consulting firms, like MBA Exchange; those articles and posts seemed to be heavily influenced by their own advertising campaigns. Then, I weeded out the newer entrants, like Fortuna and Stratus Prep. The claims of the newbies seemed really alluring (how neat that an owner even bothered to talk to me); but I couldn’t put my faith in companies that were in start up mode. Among the existing companies, there are dozens of reviews to sift through. I saw an important trend that directing my admissions consulting pursuit toward Stacy Blackman. Only SBC had posts of positive reviews as early as 2005 and 2006. Those reviews have been consistent over time and seemed the most authentic. Honestly, I think it’s strange when I read the short declarations (“hands down the best”) and the abrupt attacks on this thread that don’t have any details (it makes me think there’s a bit of manipulation or jealousy out there by the other admissions consulting firms). Hire a consultant based on your own research and whether you can validate your research through conversations with reps from the firms. Ideally, you will have colleagues who can also provide feedback. I will be attending my first choice, INSEAD, because of this important partnership I had with Carol and the rest of Stacy’s team. The ease of communication, 24/7, through holidays, and over the many weeks of our engagement, was incredible.

  • Renault

    You are a fake account.

  • Dmitriy

    I just want to give many thanks to Stacy Blackman and to William Chionis personally. I think he is an amazing consultant and he does his job super professionally. It is really hard to underestimate his participate in my success. I got two out of two! Chicago Booth EMBA and LBS-Columbia GEMBA program are accepted me. I hesitated before take a consulting service as I was not sure that it worth for EMBA. I tried six different firms and consultants but he was seemed the best. It was one of the best choose in my life. His guideline changed my view not only on the application process but really helped me to develop my personal mid- and long-term strategy. His answers were always efficient and came very quickly. During the interviews, I felt very confident as adcoms asked exactly the same questions that we discussed. I just give them very impressive story of my life that you helped me to create. I will strongly recommend Stacy Blackman to anyone who are looking for a top program.

  • Pasha P

    I worked with Stacy Blackman Consulting in 2013 and would like to share it with anyone who is interested in the topic. My Consultant was Margaret Strother and I really enjoyed working with her over a span of five months. I was specifically interested in top European schools (only applied to Kellogg in US) and at first wasn’t too sure about working with a consultant from North America. I was proven wrong over and over again by Margaret’s depth of knowledge and SBC’s overall support during some very tense moments of my life. Margaret and I worked closely to come up with stories that felt great to me and also positioned me as a unique candidate for my target schools. She was frank in her approach and extremely diligent in her reviews; I wrote and rewrote my essays upwards of 12 times in some instances. I was extremely impressed by Margaret’s (and SBC) integrity in the whole process. It was made clear from the initial meeting that they weren’t going to paint a nice but untrue story or do my work for me. While I didn’t have “holes” in my application, I was considered an older candidate; Margaret was very clear on the limitations that my age might bring to my candidacy and overall application(s). However, she fully supported me all the way with even the smallest things on my applications, interviews, etc. that hadn’t crossed my wildest imagination before! I was admitted to all three schools I applied to and eventually accepted the offer from my school of choice.

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