Author: James Wright, Associate Dean and International MBA Director, FIA Business School
10 Dec 2014
Brazil has maintained one of the highest long-term growth rates in the world, but it is a volatile economy, with many ups and downs. Learning to do business there can bring rewards to international businesses and executives. With a multiracial and dynamic society, Brazil has become a world leader in areas such as ultra deep sea oil, iron ore, pulp and paper, sustainable food and beverage production, biofuels, and regional aircraft. A study by FIA, a leading business school in Brazil, shows that creativity, innovation, quick turnarounds, flexibility, hard work and an eye on the future are hallmarks of the new Brazilian management style.
FIA was established in 1980 as a think tank and research centre, studying business and public policy issues. Since then, it has advised the Brazilian Government on the country’s pioneering ethanol fuel programme and has recently developed a strategic plan for the city of São Paulo, as the economic and business hub of Latin America. On the business side, the school identified ‘bottom of the pyramid’ opportunities for local firms long before the concept was globally recognised. In 1993, FIA pioneered executive MBAs in Brazil in light of increasing international investment. In 2010, it was named the most innovative business school in South America by European CEO, for its groundbreaking research as well as the global reach of its courses. Indeed, its International MBA programmes are not only practical and relevant, but also future-oriented and far-reaching in their scope, as befits a truly international business school that caters to experienced managers.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, fun-loving Brazilians work long hours
Another fundamental lesson from the very outset was a strong focus on societal issues, leading to a major emphasis on business ethics and corporate social responsibility. This has created a lasting commitment to action by FIA students and alumni, who have given back to society by applying their management knowledge to over 650 charitable NGOs in the last 20 years.
In emerging countries, where governments frequently fall short on delivering essential public services, corporate commitment to social causes, properly linked to strategy, is a fundamental concept. With a focus on human development, teamwork and obtaining the best from people, FIA has pioneered a change in traditional programmes, moving from the concept of human resource management to managing people – a subtle but important move, in which the focus of management shifts from general resources to individuals.
A global outlook
The International MBAs are taught entirely in English, and these courses maintain strong international ties and exchanges with partner universities including EMLYON in France, Simon Fraser University in Canada, ITAM in Mexico and Vanderbilt in the US. The school has always had a reputation as an international institution. The business school’s pioneer programme is its International Executive MBA, offered since 1993 to senior executives with extensive experience in leadership roles. This course gives the participants full advantage of the school’s international connections. For example, FIA operates study trips to America, France and the UK, during which around 80 percent of the time is dedicated to classes and talks by expert lecturers. Executive students are also taken to China and India, exposing them to the experiences of emerging markets. MBA students at FIA undertake internships as part of their courses, including on the most recent offering, the Americas MBA. Companies in Brazil work closely with the school to offer graduates varied business experience.
The potential to network with professional peers, both as interns and during courses, is a key attraction. FIA has one of the best executive networks in Brazil and beyond, giving students the chance to connect internationally at a senior level. Graduates have gone on to lead companies in many countries as CEOs, and the school incorporates their experience into teaching a particularly Brazilian brand of management, integrating creative strategies, innovative use of technology and resources, flexibility, and socially conscious management. Contrary to popular misconceptions, fun-loving Brazilians work long hours. Rigorous project management, attention to detail, focus on objectives, hard work and perspiration are important elements in the success of outstanding local companies. These include Embraer, the world leader in regional aircraft manufacture, Vale, probably the most efficient mining company in the world, and Ambev, a global leader in the beer industry.
Looking into the future has always been a characteristic of the FIA approach to management. Profuturo, its future studies centre, was created in 1980 to study the future of ethanol fuel in Brazil. Technological, managerial and social impacts were explored, and the success of this initiative led to future-oriented studies in ultra deep sea oil production, transportation, biodiesel production, agro-industrial strategic planning, product development for low income consumers, and a host of other management decisions designed to create innovative business strategies. From the outset, FIA Business School has sought to develop new approaches to problems that beset emerging markets and to challenge faculty and students to share their views in an ever more globalized world. In 1984, I developed the first scenarios and models that helped Brazilian companies create high technology basic products, specifically designed for people with low incomes in emerging markets. Professor Renata Spers followed this up, analysing five years of original data that showed, for the first time in the world, that companies that served low income groups could grow more and be more lucrative than those that focused primarily on wealthier market segments. In another innovative line of research, Professor Alfredo Behrens has looked at how Brazilian samba clubs put together one of the world’s grandest and most creative spectacles, the annual carnival parades in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Dozens of clubs, each with up to 4,000 members, compete using rigorously orchestrated, perfectly timed extravaganzas of creative costumes, choreography and imaginative floats, each one with a distinct and creative story line, integrated flawlessly in an amazing project management achievement.
Besides learning about emerging markets, FIA MBA students take two international study trips, anticipating the trend towards providing a broader global educational experience. Every year, large groups of FIA executives visit Europe, China, India, Dubai, South Africa, the US and other South American countries. The Americas MBA is a joint programme with ITAM in Mexico, Simon Fraser University in Canada and Vanderbilt University in the US. Students from all four schools study partly at their home university and partly in each of the four countries, to learn about each other’s business culture and perform a real-life international consulting project. The success of these initiatives has allowed FIA to become the first South American school to attract a class of full-time MBA students, mainly from Europe and the USA, who come to Brazil to study in English and learn about management with a Brazilian flavour. In this way, FIA is helping to develop not only capable managers, who are making companies in Brazil more globally competitive, but executives who will bring concrete contributions to a better world.