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About Family Businesses
Some candidates with family business backgrounds get very nervous when applying to top business schools because they are concerned that their work with their family businesses will inherently be unattractive to top business schools. They assume they will be at a disadvantage when they are not coming from Fortune-scale companies. The good news is that top business schools do admit candidates with family business backgrounds. In fact, some schools have courses and networks especially for such candidates, as does Columbia Business School, for example.
A challenge of applying to top MBA programs when this is your background is that many top schools will be less interested in mom-and-pop type family businesses. By a “mom-and-pop” business, I mean the sort of business where someone essentially runs a business by themselves, like a realtor might run his/her own business, with only a secretary or assistant. For that sort of candidate, the admissions committee may tend to think you can learn what you need to learn about business by taking a few business courses online or at a non-nationally ranked school. The admissions committee may also be concerned that you will not have enough to share in the classroom of a top MBA program. Will you be able to share best practices with regard to forming significant partnerships, large-scale marketing, negotiations with major vendors, managing teams? These will be issues of concern.
Address both your need for an MBA from a top program and your ability to contribute and you will be in a stronger position in the admissions process. That is, if you are a candidate with a family business background who is seeking to access top MBA programs, be sure to try to project your family business as more than just a mom-and-pop business. It needs to come across as more of a formal company in which you engaged in some of the types of activities noted above (partnership formation, major marketing campaigns, major strategic initiatives, managing teams, etc.). Perhaps more relevant than the level of your revenues is what you have to say about how you have grown your business in the past few years in terms of business strategy, partnership formations, customer segmentation, niche identification, workforce growth, etc.
One candidate I will always remember from a few years back was helping to run a family business that focused on one of the most obscure energy sectors I could have imagined. It sounded truly off-of-the-beaten-path. Yet, we were able to write about this area as an up-and-coming area, and to show the candidate was already positioned as a leader in the burgeoning field, particularly in terms of her leadership of industry-wide educational activities in this specific niche. The business schools received her application enthusiastically and she attended a top-3 MBA program. This offers a good example of how things can go right and admissions committees can be very receptive to candidates with family background businesses.
[highlight]Shelly WattsMBA Admit
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