Addressing a distinct global challenge

The FIA Business School is spreading innovation in Management Education around all corners of Brazil; in fact, there aren't many industries it does not infiltrate


Brazil is a country with a land mass larger than the continental US and a young, dynamic and multiracial society, which has applied state of the art technology to become a world leader in areas such as regional aircraft manufacture, renewable ethanol fuels for automobiles, sustainable agricultural production, forestry management and iron ore production and logistics. FIA Business School has graduated CEOs and business leaders in each of these innovation led industries, and has been chosen by European CEO magazine to receive an award for innovation in its own right.

FIA was founded in 1980 as a not for profit independent Foundation by business  administration faculty from the University of São Paulo, Brazil’s most prestigious University, who felt that the traditional public university system did not allow enough room for innovation,  entrepreneurship and practical implementation of management knowledge.

On launching the first Executive MBA course in Brazil in 1993, FIA decided to follow international standards but to give this program a distinctly Brazilian flavour. A first innovation was to turn the program head over heels; instead of starting its courses with traditional core subjects like accounting, statistics or marketing, it begins with a good hard look at the socio-economic development issues and the strategic challenges to firms working in a volatile emerging country environment. This allows experienced executive students to develop a vision of the major challenges that the business environment holds, and makes for much deeper involvement and understanding of the importance of some of the traditional management subjects that are studied during the core part of the course.

Another fundamental development that moulded the distinct character of FIA courses has been from the very outset in 1993 a strong focus on societal issues, leading to a major emphasis on Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility in study programs. This has created lasting commitment to action by FIA students and alumni to social causes, which was materialised in the innovative charter of the very first alumni association, whose primary goal has been to give back to society by applying the management expertise of FIA alumni in developing the management capabilities of charitable NGOs. More than 850 organisations have received training for their personnel, administered over 10 years by 960 volunteers alumni and students, who also implement the projects developed in these courses, actually leading organisational turnarounds, marketing drives and economic recoveries of the recipient NGOs. In a global first for a business school from an emerging country, FIA has held workshops in Europe to transfer its methodology and teaching materials to Eastern European schools, so as to help put Corporate Social Responsibility into action in these regions and effectively change their student’s attitudes regarding their roles in society.

With a focus on human development, teamwork, and obtaining the best from people, FIA has pioneered a change in the traditional programs, moving from the concept of “Human Resource Management” to “Managing people”; a subtle but important move, in which the focus of management is moved from ”resources” to individuals, something that makes an important distinction in management attitudes.

From the outset, FIA Business School has sought to reverse the flow of management thought and creativity from more developed countries, by developing new approaches to problems that beset emerging market countries, and taking faculty and students to share their views in an ever more globalised world. Professor Wright, current Dean of the Business School, has developed, since 1984, the first scenarios and models that helped Brazilian companies create high technology “Basic Products” specifically designed for the large contingents low income people in developing markets. This concept became widely adopted many years later through C.K. Prahalad’s work in his best selling 2005 book “The Wealth at the Bottom of the Pyramid”.

To gain global exposure, from 1995 onwards FIA Executive MBA graduates were required to take two international study trips as part of their program, foreshadowing the business school trend towards providing a broader global educational experience. Every year since then, large groups of FIA students have taken regular study trips to places such as the US, Europe, China, India,  Dubai, South Africa and other South American countries. This has created a truly international learning experience during the MBA, which is materialised in comparative studies, seminars and business plans presented to all their peers on their return.

In another break with tradition, specialised MBAs were created in 1995, when an evaluation showed that while in other parts of the world, the generalist MBA prevailed, in an emerging country like Brazil, management often needed a more directly applied content to support their immediate professional improvement needs, while providing a basis for further career development. Specialised MBAs have since then become more common in Europe and the US.

The success of these initiatives has allowed FIA to be the first South American school to effectively attract a class of full time MBA students, mainly from Europe and the US, who come to Brazil to study in English and learn about management with a Brazilian flavour. International recognition has meant that FIA has the only fully Brazilian Executive MBA program that has consistently been placed since 2005 among the 70 best in the world by entities such as the Financial Times Executive MBA rankings.

To integrate the learning experience gained along the courses, strong group interaction and international experiences, FIA graduates develop not only the traditional capstone courses and business simulations, but also perform real life consulting projects in companies, develop business plans or social projects for companies in which they are working or doing internships. As final integrative study subjects, courses on innovation and on sustainability are also given towards the end of the programs. To finalize,  another distinctive activity; each student develops a personal “Agenda for the Future” in which he or she draws up a five year plan for self improvement in the three areas of professional development, family life, and contribution to society.

In this way, FIA feels that it is helping to develop not only capable managers, who are making companies in Brazil more globally competitive, but executives who will bring effective and concrete contributions to a better world.

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