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Applying To The MBA At INSEAD With A Family Business Background—How Should I Do It?

Virginie Fougea, director of MBA recruitment and admissions at INSEAD, answers our applicant question of the week

Thu Aug 23 2018

It’s the BusinessBecause Applicant Question of the Week.

Every week, we give you the opportunity to ask one of our chosen admissions experts anything you want to know about getting into business school. One question each week is chosen for our expert to answer.

This week’s chosen question was inspired by 25-year-old Libyan Adris Mahmoud (pictured below). Adris started working for his family business—importing and selling cleaning products, perfumes, and accessories—aged just 15. At 18, he became director of the company’s import and distribution arm.

Adris plans to start his undergraduate studies next year before applying to INSEAD, drawn by the school’s global brand. Adris has lived in Malaysia and speaks Malay fluently, along with Arabic and English.

His question is answered by Virginie Fougea, director of MBA recruitment and admissions at INSEAD, who’s worked in admissions at INSEAD for over 20 years.

Applicant Question of the Week:


Hi BusinessBecause,

Can someone from a family business background start his undergraduate degree late and then apply to INSEAD? That is of course with meaningful business work track record before and while studying. 

The Answer:

It’s perfectly fine to start undergrad later than usual if you are involved in a family business (or for any other valid reason). We have had a student who had no undergrad degree at all. He had started his company which turned out to be successful and applied to INSEAD straight after.

And we welcome students who have worked for family businesses—as well as NGOs, the media, pharmaceutical companies, big consulting firms, or mining companies. The diversity so highly valued by INSEAD also lies in the professional backgrounds of our students.

To help the Admissions Committee make an informed decision, we encourage applicants from family businesses to provide dimensions about the company (size of the company, number of employees, company turnover, etc.). This can be helpful to illustrate the level of professional responsibilities held by the applicant.

Family business applicants often ask whom they could select as MBA application recommenders particularly if they work with their mother, father or cousins. They want to know if the Admissions Committee see this as a potential bias.

We fully acknowledge the fact that it might sound strange to go to a parent for a letter of reference. However, the Admissions Committee understands that it could be necessary to depict the full competencies and responsibilities of an applicant.

 We have had an example of a female applicant who was working in the fashion industry with her mother. One of her recommenders was a supplier of leather for the handbags the family company was creating and the second recommender was her mother. This way the Admissions Committee could gain a full understanding of the professional environment the applicant was operating in.

There are many other options with regards to the recommendations. Applicants from family businesses should just be mindful of finding people who can objectively comment on their leadership skills and ability to contribute regardless of the family relationship.

INSEAD MBA students from family businesses bring the motivation and passion for their families in addition to their passion for their business. They can add value in class by sharing the uniqueness of their family firms, their impact on regional economies, and the challenges of generational transitions.

The potential challenge for these applicants is, like some other applicants who have very busy agendas, to find enough time to prepare for the GMAT. It is not always easy to devote time to the GMAT preparations and at the same time feeling the indirect pressure coming from a family business environment. Prioritization is key for some of these applicants.

Ask an Admissions Expert a Question


Next week, we’re giving you the chance ask the team at The MBA Exchange anything you want to know about getting into business school.

Dan Bauer (pictured right) founded The MBA Exchange in the mid-1990s after completing his MBA at Harvard. Today, 75 former MBA admissions officers, admissions committee members, interviewers and grads from Harvard Business School, Stanford, Wharton, INSEAD, MIT, and other top schools, make up the team at The MBA Exchange—more ex-adcoms from more schools than any other firm.

To ask the team at The MBA Exchange a question, head to our Twitter and Facebook pages or post in the comments box below!