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Fortuna Admissions Celebrates 10 Years of MBA Consulting

Ten years ago, we set out to create a dream team of former MBA Admissions Directors from the world’s top business schools.

Looking back on our 10-year anniversary, Fortuna’s trio of founders affirm that our DNA hasn’t changed: our goal continues to be to provide inside-track expertise to candidates and leverage the insights of those who truly know the schools inside out.

In this candid video chat, my co-founders and I look back on a decade of MBA admissions coaching, and get introspective about why we founded a consultancy, what makes Fortuna unique, what’s changed (and hasn’t!) over the past decade It’s inspiring to be in the company of so many fascinating and passionate professionals – both within our coaching community and the clients that we serve. Thank you for making our MBA dreams a wild success!

Video transcript:

MATT SYMONDS: How quickly 10 years goes by. Emerging from a financial crisis; London hosting the Olympics; what a great time to start a business! And that is exactly what we did, with my co-directors Judith Hodara, who was the former Admissions Director at Wharton, and Caroline Diarte-Edwards, the former Admissions Director at INSEAD. It has been fun, hasn’t it?

JUDITH SILVERMAN HODARA: It has definitely been fun!

CAROLINE DIARTE EDWARDS: It’s been a great ride!

JUDITH: It’s hard to believe that it has been 10 years. I think we’re all in denial about that fact.

MATT: Well gold rings in the Olympics, because we’ve always talked about Fortuna and their “Dream Team” because over those 10 years we’ve helped so many thousands of candidates. Clients from over 110 countries in the world, to secure their place. We talk about hopes and dreams and what we’ve always wished for them. We’ve grown, the three of us and then we had this wonderful first handful of insiders, lots of former Admissions professionals from top schools and that’s grown too.

We now have over 40 former Admissions Directors, former Associate Deans, former Associate Directors from pretty much every top US and European Business School. We just got ranked as the most successful firm for placing at the M7. Tens of millions of dollars of scholarships that have also enabled people to open the door. I often talk about “gatekeepers”, “opening the door”, Judith, has been such a big part of what we have been able to offer in the last decade.

JUDITH: And I think that that is so important. When I was at Wharton and people said to me “Why are you leaving university life?”, I loved it I had been there for a very long time, in a number of different positions, and I really wanted to be able to talk with students about what I knew, and not be on the other side of the desk. But to really share with them what my experiences had allowed me to understand about what the process is like from the inside, why certain approaches really work.

At heart I’m really a counsellor and I think that’s what drove me to want me to start talking to students with the two of you. That opportunity to have face to face discussions about how can we help these students, these perspective applicants put their best foot forward? And it has been completely joyful for me to be able to do that.

MATT: Caroline, I’d estimated that over the 7 years of running the Admissions Office at INSEAD, that meant having the final decision of over 30,000 applicants to INSEAD’s MBA Program, but you’ve spoken of receiving that polished, final product, but the last 10 years really has been getting so much closer to clients, helping them find their voice. What have you most enjoyed?

CAROLINE: I really appreciate the opportunity I have at Fortuna, to get to know clients much better than I could when they were candidates at INSEAD, and I was evaluating them with the Admissions Committee, because, as you say, at the school you are dealing with such tremendous volume of candidates and you spend very little time individually on each case. And you receive, as you say, the final product, and in fact sometimes the final product would not be as polished as you would like it to be.

So I would get an application from someone and I could see that the raw material, that their profile was very good, but they had misunderstood what we were looking for in the application process, or they had made a bad choice of recommendation, or something had gone wrong in their presentation, and it was frustrating, a shame so I very much appreciate the opportunity that I have at Fortuna to make sure that the people we work with don’t make those mistakes. And we take the guess work out of the process for them.

I love having the opportunity to get to know people, we often work with people over several months, and I very much appreciate the position of trust that our clients put us in, and the opportunity that we have to help them put their best foot forward in what is an incredibly competitive process. I was just reading some applications today, two incredibly talented young people on very different paths, very different backgrounds, and it’s just fascinating. I get so much joy, as Judith said, out of working with these young people and I am in tremendous admiration of what they have achieved. And it’s just fascinating the variety of backgrounds and diversity of the clients we work with. So having the opportunity to hold people’s hand through what is a very stressful process, is a great honor.

MATT: When the three of us first had this idea together, and quickly supported by many others from the industry, that original vision, we’d looked at the market, there were MBA’s that were sharing their experiences but there just were not Admissions Officers. Judith, we’ve stayed with that vision, others are now copying it, we got it right?

JUDITH: I believe so. I really think that we have an extraordinary team of individuals that know what they’re talking about because they’ve been making decisions for a very, very long time. And those of them that have joined us more recently are bringing that fresh energy, that fresh understanding of what the application pools look like. So, we have this great balance between people who have tremendous respect within the industry and know the schools and then folks who have joined us again, that are seeing applications from 3 years ago or 2 years ago, what those have looked like. I think there’s no substitute for that.

Our team really prides themselves in being incredibly collaborative, so they talk to each other all the time about “What do you think?” or “How can you approach?” or “What’s important?” so in the morning, when I check in, I’ll see lots of conversations that have been going on pretty much 24 hours, because we are global, looking at very specific questions like, “So is it OK if Harvard is 905 words?” for example, or much more general questions about approach and talking to recommenders, and things like that. So, I do think we got it right.

At the beginning people were like “Oh my goodness how are you going to make this work?” and we’ve just grown, with this great group of people, that really know how to deliver for their clients, but also be there for one another. That for me has been incredibly important.

MATT: I sometimes feel like a kid in the candy store, having, of course, almost started the industry of organizing MBA fairs and continuing to host a lot of events with the Admissions Directors of these top schools, and now I get to work with them. You are all so patient with me and what you explain, but Caroline, as we think about that wonderful early team, how it has continued to grow, now we have recent Associate Deans from Booth, Stanford, Berkeley Haas that have joined us. All of them bring that energy to an incredibly vibrant and insightful team.

CAROLINE: Yes, absolutely. Thinking back to 10 years ago, when I was working at INSEAD, I used to get input from the students who were coming in. I saw with each incoming class that there were an increasing number of our students who had worked with coaches, and realized that, as we discussed when we started, that a lot of those people who were giving advice were giving bad advice, or they didn’t have the right background to advise candidates and so we realized that there really is a gap in the market here for coaches who actually understand that inside track of how things work behind the closed doors of admissions. And that was our vision when we started, and that has really resonated with the market, as you say. And I’m so thrilled that we have be able to continue to attract wonderful peers from the industry.

There’s such a sense of collegiality in the team, of supportiveness and, even though people are spread all around the globe, there is very much a sense of team spirit. And clients sometimes don’t see that, because they are working with a primary coach, who is their primary point of contact and they don’t necessarily see everything that’s going on behind the scenes and the discussion, the debate and I find that super useful because, even though I worked at INSEAD for so many years, and I love working with candidates applying to INSEAD, I still sometimes find it super useful to reach out to the team and say, “Right this candidate has this particular challenge and what do you think?”

Admissions is not a science, it’s not black and white, there’s an art to it and there are lots of judgement calls to make, so I find it invaluable to have that collective expertise that I can reach out to as a sounding board and have access to that collective brains trust. It’s a huge asset to me as a coach to have access to that and it’s a very active community that we have of coaches around the world.

MATT: Judith, with so many thousands of clients getting admitted to these top schools. Sometimes, you see them on campus, that must lovely. Do you have a favourite story?

 JUDITH: I love that, I do, I keep in touch with some of my students and I love seeing what’s going on in their lives; new careers; new families; new locations. I get invited to graduations which just makes me beyond thrilled. Last year I got invited to MIT Sloan, I wasn’t able to make it, but the student said to me that I was a second mum. I said “Well good, I’m happy to be an honorable aunty.” I actually met up with him for coffee the last time I was in New York. So these relationships matter. And I’m not the only one, so many of our teammates will say that they’ve gotten to really appreciate knowing their clients and they’ll see them afterwards and see how they’re growing. It’s remarkable.

I think at the heart of it, we’re all deeply inter-connected people. That’s what brings us, we have this ability in this particular realm, we’re really good at walking the process with folks who are applying, but we deeply care about what happens and how it is happening. That to me is the hallmark of the type of individuals who are on our team, and something that I think is very important.

We are not a factory we never have been. We cap our client numbers per coach very intentionally so that students don’t feel like they’re just one of 25 students that are getting reviewed and reviewed and reviewed, it’s really genuinely a one-on-one interaction. That’s something that has just been terrific. I think for all of us when people post where they’re going on the first day of school, or they’ve just gotten admitted, on Linked In, we’re all so thrilled because we know that we had a part in helping to have that happen.

MATT: If we think, Caroline, about the many, many consultants, bankers, engineers, those well-represented profiles in the applicant pool, but also so many that didn’t have any connection to business school, weren’t certain, with their less traditional profile, that they might be the right fit, as you think across all those different stories, where do you think it really then makes a difference, the sort of guidance we can offer?

CAROLINE: I think having the context of having read so many applications, and I still, when I review the application for a client, I go back to the mindset of when I was evaluating files at the school, that “Admissions Committee Mindset”. We have that ability to step into the shoes of the school, and understand, “Okay, well, looking at this candidate, what are the things that are going to stand out? And what are the concerns that they’re going to have?” And therefore, “How can they best showcase their experience? And how can they mitigate, proactively, any concerns that the school may have?” And just understanding how the different pieces of that puzzle will fit together to create a really coherent story.

Having the broader perspective of how this candidate may look, compared to the other people in the pool that they’re going to be compared against, is hugely valuable, because, as an individual, the candidate may be aware of other people who are applying, they may have some colleagues who are applying if they’re in a firm where people typically apply to business school, but they’re not going to have that broader sense of the broader pool, and I think being able to hold up a mirror to them as well, and help them understand. “Okay, well, this is actually this is really extraordinary what you’ve done.”

Often we have clients who don’t realize that something that they have achieved, or some aspect of their background is super interesting to business school. It could be some aspect of their extracurriculars or their personal life, and they think, “Well, business school is only really interested in my resumé, and my professional experience.” But that is not true, business schools are very much interested in you as a whole person and everything that you bring to the table.

And so, I think we do a very good job of helping clients to understand and go through a process of reflection and understand what they have achieved so far in their career and in their lives. And what are the strengths that that really makes them stand out. We try to make it a process where they’re not just jumping through a hoop of writing an application and ticking off all the elements that they need to work through to apply, but actually, really get something out of that process of reflection and take a step back from where they are in their careers, and think carefully about what have they built? What have they developed? Where do they want to go in the future? And think very carefully about their post MBA goals, their medium-term goals, their longer-term goals.

I think people don’t always have the time and the space in their lives, especially young professionals who are so busy, and their day job is so demanding that they don’t necessarily have the time or the space to take a step back and think, take that sort of higher-level perspective on taking stock of where they are and where they’re going. The process and the methodology that we take them through  really helps them do so much more than just present themselves well to business school, but it helps them also.

We often get feedback from clients that the work that we’ve done with them has helped them really hit the ground running when they do get to business school, because they have a much better sense of themselves and what they want to get out of the program, what they want to do as regards their job search and how they’re going to approach that. So, they’re very well-equipped to make the most out of the experience when they start.

MATT: I think that with what you’re describing, I actually think this starts with the first point of contact with Fortuna. We’ve got this wonderful core team, that I’m very lucky to be involved with, that handle our consultations, 1000’s of them, we speak to everybody that reaches out to us, which is not true of the wider industry. I think if there was a TripAdvisor rating, or some sort of JD Power, I think we’d be 5.1 on a five scale or a six star, the number of individuals that said, “We ran over, you’re taking the time to look at my profile, we’ve just had an extraordinary conversation.”

Holding up this mirror that you’re describing Caroline, and I’m thinking, on average, I speak to individuals from all over the world, from the Solomon Islands – I haven’t had anyone from Easter Island, I’m still waiting – but from all over the world, and sharing with us a real sort of openness and honesty, and coming away saying, “Well, that was the best call. It’s been so helpful.”

So, if I speak to 20 people a week, that’s about 1,000 a year, if we’ve been going for a decade, I might have just reached 10,000. Now, whether that applies to Bill Gates, who says “If you do 10,000 hours, you’re an expert.” Let’s hope it’s a step in that direction. But it does feel like a blessing. Judith, what does the next 10 years bring for Fortuna? 

JUDITH: I love that question, because I think we’re really excited about what happens next. There are so many changes in the ways that individuals are looking at higher education. Certainly, the pandemic has taught us about all sorts of opportunities and options, change in the workplace, change in career path, change in opportunity. So, I have no doubt that the MBA is going to continue to be a pivotal part in this generation’s next steps, but I think we’re all going to be looking at the different ways that it can be accomplished, and where people might want to insert themselves in that process. So, it might not be at a particular juncture that it was when we first started Fortuna to be honest, I do see this kind of going in a lot of different directions.

I know that the process that we’ve all been talking about is going to remain fundamentally important. So that discovery, that reflection piece, that gift of taking time to figure out, “Where am I right now? Where do I envision myself? And what is the right thing for me to help get there?” So, in walking with one of our team, and with a coach and a director, I see that as just an incredible possibility. Again, I think we’re looking towards different methodologies in terms of delivery. Not everything has to be the way that we were doing it 10 years ago, but you did speak earlier about how we got it right when we started the company.

Our vision for what we believed was it was a great way to go about that. And I don’t think that that’s going to change at all. I’m excited about it. I know that Caroline and I have learned so much about being small business owners along with you, Matt and what that’s like, as we all came from an educational background. And here we are, sort of making this happen 10 years later. And we learned from the best, Matt, because you’ve been a business owner for many years before we got engaged on this project. And I think we’re all just really looking forward to see what happens next. So stay tuned. Watch this space.

MATT: Judith, I had to be a business owner because nobody was ever going to hire me! In terms of making things happen, perhaps that’s a nice note to include because of course with the MBA we do Specialized Masters, Masters in Management, a wide range of graduate programs. Caroline, an individual is taking the step to invest in themselves, whatever happens in the markets’ uncertainty, that fundamental investing in yourself is something that you had done when you got your MBA, and of course, so many 1000s, you’ve seen taking this step, but that never goes away, right?

CAROLINE: No, I don’t think so. And we sometimes talk to candidates who are concerned about the timing, and whether it’s really worth it, and should they apply now or will the market change? And perhaps they should apply next year? Or does it even make sense for them, given where they are in their careers? I always advise candidates to take a long-term perspective, and not just think about, “Okay, if I do the MBA now, then what am I foregoing?” Right now, a lot of candidates have a lot of great opportunities in the marketplace, right? They’re getting promotions, they’re getting job offers, etc. And so some candidates are hesitating about whether to apply.

I think that’s a shame, because I think that as an MBA candidate, it’s really important to think about the long-term perspective and the value that you’ll get from investing in your education in the medium to long term and not just think about the next couple of years, and “What am I potentially missing out on if I do go off to business school?” I’ve never spoken to someone who has been to a top business school, who has regretted it. There are so many benefits from that education, not just your career benefits, but having that network behind you is hugely valuable. And that’s a great asset that you can leverage throughout your career, both professionally and personally. I think there’s a tremendous return, in many ways, not just financial, on that investment in your education.

MATT: So here we are, we have reached the first 10 years. And the three of us wanted to say “Thank you”.  We wanted to say “Thank you”, of course, to so many of our extraordinary colleagues, you’re literally changing people’s lives in such a positive way. We wanted to thank everyone who has been a client with Fortuna, you have put your trust and faith in our team, and how we can then help make a difference as you pursue those hopes and dreams.

And “Thank you” to all of those partners, whether it’s journalists from the FT [Financial Times] and the Wall Street Journal who have reached out to us, of course, so many of the events and publications, platforms, but it’s an extraordinary community. I feel truly blessed to have shared these 10 years, and with these two individuals that I’m sharing this recording with, Judith and Caroline, roll on the next 10 years. You cannot imagine how fortunate I am, to work with both of you!

CAROLINE: Likewise!

JUDITH: Thank you so much. This was great. I had a terrific time talking to you.

MATT: Happy Birthday!

[end transcript]

Let’s Get You In.

Fortuna Admissions is a dream team of former MBA Admissions Directors and Officers from 18 of the top 20 business schools. We are passionate and skilled at helping candidates achieve admissions success at the MBA programs of their dreams (see what candidates are saying about us in P&Q’s recent feature, Most Favorably Reviewed MBA Admission Consulting Firms). We work closely with you throughout the application process and provide expert guidance at every stage to maximize your chances of admission to a top school.

Our free consultations are consistently rated as the best in the industry. For more advice, and a candid and personal, candid assessment of your chances, sign up for a free consultation.


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