In March 2019, 116 Executive MBA participants from the 2018 cohort descended on São Paolo, Brazil, for the International Business Study Trip (IBST) week.
I probed members of faculty on what the ‘top secret location’ of the trip was in advance. My guess (and hopes) had been Colombia, so I was happy and not too far off with Brazil.
Some members of the cohort were initially unsure about the logistics of travelling and staying in Brazil, and were concerned about potential crime and the country’s divisive politics. However, we were all excited to explore a vibrant, global city and discover how businesses work and interact in the country’s most populous city and the financial capital of South America.
As an economic development and foreign direct investment consultant I was excited to see the country’s main commercial hub and focus of international investment in Brazil. What’s more, parts of Brazil were already familiar to me, having recently returned from a Christmas and New Year holiday with my family in Rio de Janeiro.
Ahead of the IBST I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Rio with members of my EMBA cohort. There, separate from the IBST programme, we met with members of an educational charity based in one of Rio’s favelas and shared our business experiences with students on the entrepreneurs course. It was a truly rewarding experience and a great way to kick off our visit to Brazil. It also immediately brought into stark relief some of the major socioeconomic issues facing the country, in terms of poverty and violence.
Once the rest of the cohort arrived in São Paolo, we moved to our hotel for the trip. If the hotel being in one of the most exclusive, tree-lined and boutique-filled neighbourhoods of the city hadn’t made everybody feel relaxed, then the appearance of several members of the Jackson family at the same hotel later in the week, walking around with minimal security, probably did the trick. A few obligatory selfies were of course taken by several members of the cohort.
The week kicked off on Sunday night with a great churrasco-style dinner and an interesting speaker, who provided frank insights into the challenges facing the Brazilian economy and businesses. It was a great start to the week and introduced us to a theme that was to emerge during our time in São Paolo around policies in the country that can hamper the ability for companies to grow and compete.
“Brazil was a fantastic backdrop against which to understand the different types of capitalism, the intrinsic link between socio-economic development and economic performance and how a country once propelled as a role model for fast growing emerging economies has had to cope with more recent disappointing economic performance in this regard. A very intellectually stimulating and eye-opening experience.”– Piyush Durani
I knew from my own line of work the challenges this can present as an investment location, and it appeared home-grown companies were beginning to struggle to compete against international peers, as well as the multinationals entering the Brazilian economy with deep wallets and tried-and-tested global business models.
Once the true work started on the Monday, we certainly knew about it! The theme was ‘Globalisation and International Business’ and the schedule was demanding. Lectures exploring economic, cultural and institutional distance between different countries covered a huge amount of ground.
A mixture of company visits and guest speakers added further colour and a comprehensive view of Brazil’s place in the international market, as well as the successes and often spectacular failures of different market entry models adopted by companies around the world.
“I loved Gaetano Crupi’s (President and General Manager at Bristol-Myers Squibb) speech. His speech was so inspirational that the message was to be happy with where we were – look after your body and family. We all are under constant pressure from a lot of people; work place, parents, peer groups and most of all, ourselves. Gaetano had an important message which was for us to learn to be content with where we are and you do not necessarily keep ‘progressing if you find your happy place.”– Anna Hwang
For me the highlight of the week was without a doubt the ‘Innovation Sessions’ where we had the opportunity to ‘speed-interview’ exciting established and growing Brazilian start-ups and technology companies. As someone starting to develop a B2C technology platform, it was a fantastic and unique opportunity to grill the entrepreneurs on their experiences of building successful start-up companies in a far more challenging environment than the UK.
“It was eye-opening to see how existing ideas and technologies can and are being used in other countries; it was great to see how the Brazilian entrepreneurs are using innovation in different ways by adapting ideas to their cultural context.” – Shalom Kundan
And finally, there was the not-so-small matter of the assignment that we needed to complete in our study groups that culminated in the creative, intelligent and witty presentations delivered on the final day. The experience drew us all together and many new relationships and friendships were formed – often with the help of a few caipirinhas to smooth the way!
‘It made me realise I am so lucky to be studying with such talented people who were able to produce amazing pieces of work with very limited time.’– Anna Hwang
I completely agree with Anna (above). The ‘pressure cooker’ nature of the experience showcased the quality of the people thrown together on this incredible EMBA journey. Every month we meet is an opportunity to learn something new and of value to my career, and I’m grateful to be able to take part of this wonderful experience.