Business School and Brazil – a winning combination?


As one of the fastest growing major economies in the world, and with a shortage of internationally trained managerial talent, Brazil should have been a priority market for North American and European business schools in the past fifteen years. But many of those schools have mainly looked to the east rather than the south, focusing on the likes of China, India and Singapore for their MBA recruitment, joint programs, and even campus development.

With 9 Asian business schools featuring in the top 50 of the Financial Times 2012 full-time MBA ranking, the region offers plenty of choice for study options and global partnerships. And more than 40,000 Chinese took the GMAT business school admissions test last year, compared to only 1,697 in Brazil, suggesting that China is well ahead in producing a management pipeline of future business leaders.

However, a growing number of business schools are now looking towards Latin America, with Brazil attracting most interest. The University of Virginia's Darden School of Business has introduced a Brazilian residency as part of its Global Executive MBA (GEMBA). Students visit São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, spending two weeks attending classes, visiting local firms and learning about the region's business environment. And schools such as Thunderbird and IESE have established a campus presence for MBA and executive programs.

For Cesar Beltran, IESE Business School's Brazil director, the need for more formal business education in Brazil is extremely high. “There are plenty of managers wanting to hone their managerial skills, and many institutions wanting to take advantage of this. But they have called every course an MBA, which has deteriorated the value Brazilians will give to the degree. However, there is a growing part of the population who realize formal business education is the only way forward if the country wants to continue growing in a competitive manner.”

One way for local institutions to underline their credentials has been to forge alliances with major business schools from other countries. São Paulo’s Fundaçao Getulio Vargas Business School (FGV) for example, has partnered with UNC’s Kenan-Flagler in the U.S., the Rotterdam School of Management in Europe, EGADE in Mexico, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong for the OneMBA program, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary. Associate Dean, Marina Heck, sees the development of such programs as part of a wider trend of companies investing more in their management talent. “In Brazil the war for talent is still raging. As a result, almost 90% of the students enrolled in the OneMBA programme are funded by their companies, while in the U.S. and Europe the share is about one third. And whereas in rich countries the number of those who want to get an MBA has fallen in the past two years, applications to the OneMBA programme at FGV have doubled over the same period.”

Does this local demand suggest that Brazilians are now looking closer to home for their business education? “In the past a lot of potential students would see somewhere like the U.S. as the natural place to take a full-time program,” explains Heck. “But now a lot of them are appreciating the increased benefits of staying in Brazil. We are also seeing more students coming from abroad than ever before. They’re looking for adventure and opportunity in Brazil, with an eye to the future and what Brazil can become.

For Abraham Weintraub, Executive Managing Director at Banco Votorantim, his strategic role within the company meant that there was a need for him to remain local. “I was frequently used for communications as a spokesperson to represent the company to the press.  They didn’t want me to get out of the bank and study overseas, for example doing an MBA in Europe.” Weintraub knew the importance of studying at a well branded and highly ranked school, and was also keen to develop a truly international network of professionals with a culturally global mind-set.

“In Brazil, the brand of FGV is well considered. By choosing OneMBA, I also got to study at one of Europe’s top schools, RSM, and learned more than I could have hoped about doing business in China through the involvement of CUHK. The classes at FGV were great; I got the international experience and different cultural perspectives. I had colleagues during the course that were from around the world and we had this culture clash or different standards. You really learned what it means to communicate across cultures.”

So with this sort of learning experience now available from a home base, why should a Brazilian leave the growing economy behind completely these days to study abroad? For Rafael Alencar (MBA'12), the decision to head to Canada and do his MBA at McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management has given him a different perspective with which to solve local problems. “Brazil in many ways has so many opportunities, history and culture that it creates somewhat of a shield from outside influence. And it's hard for news, media, teachings and experience from other countries to break that barrier. Doing your MBA outside of Brazil, especially in a multicultural program like McGill gives you a different view of the world, one that opens your eyes to both the good and bad aspects of other cultures and countries.”

A Computer Engineering graduate from Pontificia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, Alencar is currently engaged with Bombardier's Aerospace, doing business development projects for the Learjet85 Business Jet, and is convinced of the value of his time at McGill. “The MBA experience is constructed so that you are taken out of your comfort zone in day one, not only with strong academic challenges and time pressures, but also multicultural group exercises, company info-sessions, and Alumnus events. And living in a city like Montreal, you understand the benefits of the cultural diversity present in the MBA. One way or another, the program will demand the best from you, and help you to grow quickly in areas you may have been lacking when you came into the program.”

The quality of the business school alumni was an important factor for Marcus Magarian when choosing where to study for his MBA. With investment banking experience in New York, he nevertheless chose to study at HEC Paris in France, a country that he feels shares a lot of similarities to Brazil in its approach to business. “It is all about the network you become a part of, and relationships the school has with companies,” he explains. “Close to 20% of HEC’s graduates are CEOs, which makes a huge difference.  When their company is looking to expand into Brazil, they either use the school’s network or hire graduating MBAs to set up the business for them. ”

Rafael Alencar agrees that with Brazil's economic growth, and the attention the country is now getting from foreign investors, having a top tier international MBA combined with local knowledge is a winning combination. “Increasingly foreign investors are looking for locals who can understand their business needs and expectations. You have a background that they can trust, and the local know-how that comes from your experience in Brazilian business.”

At home or abroad, it looks like a quality business education will continue to open doors for Brazilian managers.

Read full article (in Portugese): Voce, November 2012