Forward thinking and flexible: FIA Business School in Brazil

If you are searching for a Brazilian MBA programme with the highest international standards and a vibrant community feel, look no further than FIA Business School

Feature image
Samba clubs performing at a carnival parade. A professor at FIA studied the management techniques of the clubs in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo

Creativity, flexibility, hard work, and an eye on the future – all hallmarks of the Brazilian management style. Fundação Instituto de Administração (FIA), a leading Business School in Brazil, has studied the Brazilian management style and applied it to its own growth. Most recently, it has been chosen by European CEO as the Most Innovative Business School in South America.

Brazil is a young country, with a dynamic, multicultural society that believes in building a better future. In line with this, Brazilian companies have applied innovative management practices to achieve global leadership in diverse industry sectors. These include regional aircraft manufacturing, renewable ethanol fuel, sustainable agricultural production, forestry management, iron ore production, food and beverage production, and many others.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, fun-loving Brazilians work long hours

FIA business school has graduated CEOs and business leaders in each of these industries, and has studied their distinctive management practices. The school incorporates these into a particularly Brazilian style of teaching, integrating creative strategies, innovative use of resources and a socially conscious management, while simultaneously addressing the most up-to-date management concepts through its international linkages.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, fun-loving Brazilians work long hours. Rigorous project management, attention to detail, and a focus on objectives are all important elements in the success of outstanding companies based in the country. These include the likes of Embraer, one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer’s; Vale, probably the most efficient mining company in the world; and Ambev, a global leader in the beer industry.

The Profuturo programme: Future-proof learning
Looking towards the future has always been a characteristic of the FIA approach. Profuturo, the school’s future studies centre, was created in 1980 to study the future of fuel ethanol in Brazil. Technological, managerial and social impacts were explored successfully, which led to future-oriented studies in ultra deep-sea oil production, transportation studies, biodiesel production, agro-industrial strategic planning and a host of other management decisions.

The Profuturo team launched their first executive MBA course in 1991, incorporating international standards, but keeping that distinctly Brazilian flavour. Instead of starting like a traditional MBA (with core subjects like accounting, statistics or marketing), the programme begins with in-depth analysis of the socioeconomic and strategic challenges for the country and for firms that face a volatile emerging environment.

Looking towards the future has always been a characteristic of the FIA approach

This provides a setting to develop awareness of the major challenges that businesses face, and stimulates the value of many traditional management methods that are studied during the MBA. With a clear vision of company missions and role in society, as well as the drive to give superior returns to shareholders, the subsequent studies focus on managing each functional area and leading company-wide transformations to achieve sustainable strategic leadership.

A commitment to corporate social responsibility
The school has also put a strong emphasis on business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR) since its very foundation. This has created lasting commitment to action by FIA students and alumni to social causes, materialised by the Alumni Association, whose primary goal is to give back to society by applying their management expertise to charitable non-government organisations (NGOs).

More than 1,000 volunteer MBAs have trained administrators of hundreds of NGOs and done pro-bono consulting work. FIA has transferred teaching materials and methodology for putting CSR to action in 17 countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia – effectively helping partner schools change their students’ attitudes regarding their role in society.

Pioneering studies 
From the outset, FIA has sought to partly reverse the flow of original management from more developed centres, by devising new approaches to problems that beset emerging markets and taking faculty and students to share their views in an ever more globalised world. Dr James Wright, Associate Dean for Research at FIA, has, since 1993, developed the first scenarios and models that helped Brazilian companies create high-tech ‘basic products’ specifically designed for low income people in emerging markets.

Brazilian business flair

Male graduate holding certificate, mid section


The year the first FIA executive MBA course was launched


FIA Executive MBA Graduates must take two international study trips to complete their qualification


The number of MBAs who have done pro-bono consulting work

This concept became widely adopted from 2005 through CK Prahalad’s bestseller The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. Professor Renata Spers followed this up by analysing five years’ worth 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 the wealthier market segments.

In another innovative line of research Professor Alfredo Behrens studied Brazilian samba clubs. The samba clubs put on one of the world’s grandest and most creative spectacles. Carnival parades held in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo – each with up to 4,000 members – put on a rigorously orchestrated, perfectly timed extravaganzas, with creative costumes, choreographed dances, imaginative floats and a distinct storyline. Myriad lessons can be derived from this, where poorly qualified, but highly motivated people, work and rehearse for a full year to put on their allocated 60 minute show, supervised and integrated flawlessly in an amazing project management achievement.

Besides local research in emerging markets, FIA Executive MBA graduates must take two international study trips as part of their programme, anticipating the business school trend towards providing a broader global education. Every year, large groups of FIA students have taken regular study trips to locales in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and elsewhere in South America. This has created a truly international learning experience, which is reflected with comparative studies, seminars and business plans presented on the students’ return.

Creating executives
In another break from tradition, specialised MBAs were initiated at the school in 1995, while in other parts of the world the generalist MBA prevailed. In an emerging country like Brazil, management needs directly applied content to support their immediate professional requirements, while providing a basis for further career development. Specialised MBAs have since become more common in Europe and the US.

The most recent is the new Americas MBA for executives, now in its third edition; a joint programme with partner schools ITAM in Mexico, Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and Vanderbilt University in the US. Students from all four partner schools study at their home university in the first part of the programme and then meet for four intensive nine day sessions in each participating country, to study, learn about each others business culture, and perform a real life consulting project in an international company operation.

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. 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 also executives who will bring effective and concrete contributions to a better world.

For further information visit