Written by Shala Hainer Tuesday, March 06 2012
Snapshot: Mandee Heller Adler, International College Counselors
After using her experience helping friends' children gain college acceptance, Mandee Heller Adler decided to turn her skills into a business after the birth of her second daughter. Begun as a small, home-based company in 2004, Adler's company International College Counselors (ICC) has expanded to include not only American students but those from 11 other countries as well.
Before ICC, Adler was an investment banker for Goldman, Sachs & Co. in New York. She was the co-founder of HerDollar, Inc., which she later sold to Siebert Financial Corp. – a discount brokerage firm focusing on women - where she later worked as executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Adler brings not only her financial background to the table, but also her personal experience with higher education. With the help of about $60,000 in scholarship aid, her educational journey led her to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Business School. She was also a recipient of a fellowship from the Rotary International to study at ICADE, a premier business school in Madrid, Spain.
She's currently completing the book “From Public School to the Ivy League: How to Get into a Top School without Top-dollar Resources.”
ICC is headquartered in Hollywood, Fla., with offices in several Florida cities as well as White Plains, N.Y.; Medellin, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela. She and her staff provide expert graduate and undergraduate counseling, including school admissions, essays and financial aid.
Womenetics: Where did you find the strength and confidence to move forward with ICC -- a relatively unproven niche business? Where did you find the strongest support?
Mandee Heller Adler: I’ve never been short on confidence, but I get my strongest support from my family, many of whom work with me (I work with both sisters and my brother-in-law). My mom even found me my first three clients.
Womenetics: How does ICC bridge the gap between declining public school budgets, fewer guidance counselors and the college application process?
Adler: We provide the solution to these growing issues. With college admissions becoming increasingly more competitive and fewer guidance counselors in charge of a larger number of students, we give students the individualized attention that helps them to succeed.
Our students and their families have access to one-on-one guidance throughout high school — beginning as early as ninth grade — and we help them create plans and tackle problems on an ongoing basis. This type of personal interaction also helps us to get to know students better so that we can best help them through their unique college journey.
Womenetics: What are some challenges unique to running an international business? How do you overcome these challenges?
Adler: With international communication, we’ve had to adapt to a number of cultural differences. At first, it’s easy to interpret someone’s reaction from an American perspective, without considering the differing implications that may be behind it depending on that person’s background.
For example, we’ve learned that in some cultures it is customary for an initial meeting to end on a very positive note, no matter the final outcome. The clients may sound as though they are ready to sign up immediately, when in fact this may not be the case. While in American culture, it is common to end such a meeting by expressing your honest opinion about the service, in other cultures this is considered inappropriate. However, although it’s posed some difficulties, it’s also been very interesting to learn about so many cultures in the process.
Womenetics: What lessons have you learned since ICC's inception that you wish you knew from the beginning?
Adler: Something as simple as having everyone in the company using the same technology can make a big difference in daily activities. In the beginning, each of our computers used a different operating system. Our business involves a considerable amount of back-and-forth with documents and files, and there were always just little difficulties and inconveniences of making sure that the programs and file types we used were compatible. Now, we’re all using the same operating system, and I’ve found it to be much easier overall.
Womenetics: Is there ever a discrepancy between what parents want for their students' college plans and what the students want? How do you handle these discrepancies?
Adler: Of course — for many students, applying to college is a first step toward independence, which can lead to disagreements about school choice, major selection and other factors. Since we work on behalf of the parents as well as the student, we work hard to find solutions that make everyone happy. Whatever the case, we just always try to do the right thing for all parties involved.
Womenetics: How do you market ICC? Do you use social marketing, and if so, how do you utilize it?
Adler: We are largely a word-of-mouth business, based upon relationships we’ve built with families and students. If a family is happy with our services, referring us to their friends, family, co-workers, etc. is the best kind of marketing we can possibly have. While traditional advertising and marketing aren’t our focus, social media has been a fantastic tool. We have both a Facebook and a Twitter, and we have been able to form great connections through the use of each.
Womenetics: How did you decide on the states and countries in which to focus ICC's efforts?
Adler: Again, since our business is mostly relationship-based, we go where our relationships take us. As our relationships expand, so do opportunities for additional counselors and physical offices in new locations.
Womenetics: Running an international business requires a good bit of travel. Where is your favorite destination, and why?
Adler: I don’t really travel much for business. I have two little girls at home, and I try to be with them when I’m not at work. Plus, with Skype and a cell phone making international communication easier; it hasn’t really been necessary.
Womenetics: Was there ever a time when you second-guessed your decision to launch ICC? How did you push through the challenges of starting a business from scratch?
Adler: No, I never really second guessed it. I love ICC and everyone that I work with! This is my third entrepreneurial venture, so I knew what I was getting into. Any challenges that present themselves are less daunting, knowing that I’ve been through similar situations before.
Check out more stories about successful business-owning mothers:
After her husband's passing, Irma Elder went from being a stay-at-home mom to the first female Ford dealership owner in greater Detroit.
Sara Goldsmith Schwarz decided at five months pregnant to stop working 2500 hours a year and start her own law firm.
To gain more flexibility to care for her sick infant daughter, Andra Hall decided to turn her sweet spot for cupcakes into a bona fide business.
Based near Atlanta, Shala Hainer has been writing and copyediting since 1995. Beginning her career at newspapers such as the Marietta Daily Journal and the Atlanta Business Chronicle, she most recently wrote and edited articles for several nonprofit organizations before purchasing a flower shop in 2006. She earned a bachelor’s in communications from Jacksonville State University.