Ex-Adcoms Launch MBA Consulting Firm

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

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.


“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.


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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  • 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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