James Wright on business schools in Brazil | FIA Business School | Video

European CEO interviews Professor James Wright, Associate Dean of FIA Business School, on the future of business education in Brazil


A growing number of business schools are seeing Brazil as a priority market. Professor James Wright, Associate Dean of Brazil’s leading business school, Fundacao Instituto de Administracao (FIA Business School), discusses the importance of business education to the country’s future, the impact that the Olympics and FIFA World Cup will have on MBA graduates’ prospects, and Brazil’s affirmative action law.

European CEO: Why have business schools and Brazil become such a winning combination?

James Wright: Brazil is a very important growth market. Even if we go through turbulent times – and Brazil has a tradition of turbulence! – it’s actually a fantastic training ground. Because when you learn to deal with a turbulent market, which is also growing in the long-term, you have all kinds of examples, challenges to meet, and schools like ours, which have integrated research with practical executive education, and managed to really create a new importance to the MBA degree in Brazil.

Brazil is a fantastic training ground, because you learn to deal with a turbulent market

European CEO: How has this impacted on the demand for your programmes, and what type of students are you attracting?

James Wright: We started 20 years ago with the MBA programmes, and we focused on very senior students. According to the Financial Times rankings, we’ve had students typically in the 10 most experienced groups in the world. And we’ve developed other programmes for younger students. So, Brazil’s insertion into the international business world has attracted a lot of attention, and we’ve brought in many foreign students and professors to take part in our programme.

European CEO: How are you competing with the influx of foreign business schools in Brazil?

James Wright: So, on one hand we’re up to date. On the other hand, Brazil is still an emerging country, with peculiar emerging country issues, and different ways of doing business. And what we find is that somebody who does a course with us does a course that is internationally up to date, but also compatible with Brazilian business issues.

European CEO: How important will the Olympics and FIFA World Cup be in creating opportunities for your MBA graduates?

James Wright: There’s an estimate of around $70bn of business which will be generated in Brazil around these two events, which will happen in the next three years. So it’s a great opportunity for new businesses launching new enterprises, and working in an area which is very open to new ideas.

We created FIA as an independent school for executive education and MBAs, with a very practical orientation

European CEO: And how integral is it for FIA to maintain links to industry?

James Wright: It’s absolutely fundamental. We broke the tradition of very academic studies, very good quality academic studies done at the University of Sao Paulo. We created FIA as an independent school for executive education and MBAs. And FIA had this very practical orientation. The result of this is that we have among our alumni people like the President of Embraer Air; the best medical services system in Brazil is run by one of our alumni, and so on. This has been crucial for us to curve out a very distinct and leading position in the Brazilian environment for management education.

European CEO: Last year the senate approved an affirmative action law for universities. Why was this met with resistance, and what impact did it have on institutions?

James Wright: That law is designed to correct an imbalance, in that opportunities for education are very imbalanced. Many of the best universities are publicly funded, as is our alma mater, the University of Sao Paulo. And the intake is strictly on merit, on academic merit. So, only the young kids who go through the best schools have access to the best free public education. This reflected on income levels, and also along racial divides, because Brazil has almost 50 percent of its population of mixed origin, Afro- or indigenous descendents. And this has helped to correct this imbalance, it’s a good affirmative action.

However, things are not always so clear-cut in Brazil. Fifty percent of the population is Afro descent. And the very top universities have restrictions on this, because it does mean lowering the criteria for entrance.

The way FIA addresses this is that we prepare groups of young people from low income neighbourhoods, families that earn less than one minimum salary per capita. We give them one year of full teaching, social assistance, transport; everything they need to study for a year. And 84 percent of these kids that we support get in on their own merits to the top university and earn scholarships.

European CEO: James, thank you very much for your time.

James Wright: Thanks.