Whenever you travel to a new country or city, you are bound to learn about its culture, either directly or indirectly. Direct lessons come from trips to museums, candid discussions with residents, and travel guides. Indirect lessons require you as the traveler to actively observe your surroundings. These observations build upon one another and give you a more complete view of the culture. For example, you might notice that pedestrians tend not to move out of each other’s way when passing on the street (true for Rio). This observation, in conjunction with your takeaway that restaurants generally do not offer to-go options and thus require you to sit down and take time eating your meal (also true for Rio), could lead you to conclude that there is a laid-back approach to living in your host city.
Rio de Janeiro is indeed a laid-back city and, as such, working at Vale – the second largest mining company in the world, with 100,000 employees and $60 billion in revenues each year – for the last three weeks has provided for quite a daily contrast. This contrast is most concretely demonstrated via our bus ride to work each morning, as we pass by cariocas (Rio de Janeiro residents) and tourists sunning themselves at the beach and doing pushups in the sand.
Once in the office, the only direct indication that we are in Rio is the Portuguese we hear. Vale employees show up on time to meetings (apparently this is rare in Brazil) and replace their Havaianas with formal loafers for the workday. The city is booming and downtown is packed with professionals on their lunch breaks. The view from the office is spectacular – mountains meet the sea, but the view is interrupted by huge oil rigs and cargo ships. Rio is definitely a bustling city, and we have seen signs of rapid growth everywhere.
Vale is no exception. Formerly a state-owned company, Vale’s new CEO is extremely focused on sustainability issues – not just the environment, but the health and safety of its employees (both Vale employees as well as contractors). We are here to build a Total Value of Ownership (TVO) model for buyers to use as they go through the supplier selection process. TVO is a concept that combines the total cost of ownership (equipment cost, lifecycle costs, logistics costs, etc.) with sustainability factors to ensure that Vale’s values are shared by its partners throughout the supply chain. Quantifying sustainability factors has been a challenge for us, but over the last three weeks we have built a model that we hope will enable Vale to continue to influence its partners to do well and do good.
In the office, there are subtle signs that we are in laid-back Rio; for example, teams congregate to catch up on their weekend festivities every Monday morning and long, sit-down group lunches are a daily occurrence. These indirect lessons helped us as foreigners connect the two sides of Rio. It is doubtful that samba dancing will be happening in the break room anytime soon at Vale but we can imagine how the same employees that greet us warmly each morning might dress up in colorful costumes for Carnival each year.
It hasn’t been all work and no play, though. We are fortunate enough to be here with Team Funbio, and we took a weekend to explore one of the most beautiful places in Brazil. Ilha Grande (Big Island) is a largely undeveloped island located off the coast of Rio. It’s one of the most pristine remnants of Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest and is one of the richest ecosystems in the world. There are no cars, no hotels (just “pousadas” or guest houses), but there are countless beaches, lagoons, and 150 kilometers of hiking trails.
- View from the top
We also hiked up to the Corcovado, the Christ statue that overlooks the entire city. We were lucky to have an incredibly clear day and we were captivated by the view of the city. Rio de Janeiro is truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. With the World Cup and the Olympics coming, the city will likely continue to grow at a rapid clip. Hopefully it will grow responsibly, and its natural beauty will be preserved. As our trip comes to an end, we can only say “Obrigado” to Rio for hosting us. Beleza!