SBC Scoop: Crafting Credibility for a Family Business Applicant

Ahmed was the son of a self-made billionaire who owned a real estate empire in the Middle East. When Ahmed started thinking about business school he decided to work with Stacy Blackman Consulting because he saw his experience within the family business, largely working directly for family members, as his largest challenge in the application process.

In reality having work experience and goals that center around a family business can be a huge asset to an MBA application. After all, family business applicants are guaranteed to have a job after graduation, which minimizes any placement stress for the career services office! On a serious note, having a leadership role in your family business can be just as impressive as working for a stranger if you position your experience and recommenders correctly.

Ahmed had strong numbers with a 3.6 GPA from Cornell and a 720 GMAT that was balanced between quant and verbal. He had demonstrated leadership in college, specifically as the President of the International Student Program Board, with a mission to develop international cultural experiences for Cornell students. Ahmed had immediately returned to his family business upon graduation, and he had never worked for any other organization professionally.

We addressed his recommenders immediately upon starting our work together. Ahmed worked closely with his father, the CEO, yet we advised that an immediate family member would look biased if he wrote the recommendation.

Ahmed’s career path within his father’s real estate empire was impressive by any measure, and I was immediately excited to help craft his story when he recounted his work history. Ahmed started as part of the strategic acquisitions team and learned how to structure deals and operate within a challenging political environment to achieve the company’s business goals in commercial real estate. Ahmed had a vision for expanding the company into temporary housing and hotels to serve a growing expatriate worker population, and pitched the board an idea to develop their first apartment building. When his pitch was approved Ahmed moved from an analyst role to supervising construction, sales and operations of the apartment property. His building was an immediate success, after Ahmed’s team signed corporate relocation deals at a higher profit than the region’s average. Ahmed now wanted to return to school for his MBA with a long term goal to run the residential division of the family business and drive rapid growth. Ultimately Ahmed was positioned to take over the entire business from his father.

While Ahmed’s work history was impressive, he needed the confirmation of unbiased outside observers to give his work experience credibility. We had to delve into Ahmed’s work history within the firm to generate a list of possible recommenders who were not family members. After two brainstorming sessions we finalized the following list:

The firm’s head counsel ”“ he was not part of the family, but did report into Ahmed’s father
An independent business consultant who had worked with Ahmed on several acquisitions ”“ he was not a direct report of Ahmed’s father, but did have a vested interest in working with the company again
The banker who worked with Ahmed’s company to finance big deals ”“ again, not directly related to the company but invested in its success

We determined that these three professionals were the most unbiased of the possibilities, and had the added benefit of being unrelated to Ahmed. In the end he used the consultant and banker as references for Wharton, Chicago and Kellogg, and used all three recommendations for Harvard. For Stanford he asked the banker, consultant and a classmate who had worked with Ahmed as part of the International Student Program Board for a peer recommendation.

In addition to formulating a strong recommender strategy for Ahmed, we showcased his strong results for the business by quantifying the revenue his new division generated for the business. Luckily his numbers were impressive and the combination of strong leadership skills, business acumen, and independent recommendations earned Ahmed an admit to Harvard.

To read more SBC Case Studies, click HERE.

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