Somit Guha, Sandeep Pahuja, Suneal Rao, and Jesse Silberberg are full-time MBA students working on a Spring 2014 International Business Development project in Brazil.
Team name: Brazil Brothers
“It’s a family company.” That was how various advisors had described our IBD client to us, but we did not really understand what it meant until walking into the company’s suburban headquarters, our home for the next three weeks. If there is one thing that stands out from our experience in Brazil, it is that we were treated members of the company family. It began with our main client counterpart dedicating her entire Sunday to pick us up at the airport and show us around town, extended through open and honest conversations with senior management about the organization’s strengths and opportunities for improvement, and culminated with an unforgettable dinner with the CEO at the Italian restaurant where he is a regular and treated like family by the chef/owner. (And did we mention the personalized futbol jerseys the client gave us on our last day?) We may have provided our client with deep insights into product opportunities in foreign markets (the focus of our work), but learned just as much from them about how to integrate foreigners into a new company and new culture.
Our time in Brazil began with a mini reunion, with teammates arriving separately in Curitiba, a town about one hour south of Sao Paulo by flight. After a few weeks apart, we got to work immediately prepare for our Day 1 presentation with our client sponsors and the CEO of the company. It was a late night, but we walked into the office excited to share what we had learned over four months of work in the US.
Our client wanted to learn how it might enter the US market, and understand the implications of doing so would for the company. Having focused most of our energy in the US on market attractiveness, we shifted gears upon arriving in country to better understand the company’s capabilities. We were provided with access to individuals across all functions of the organization and their honesty about the company helped us form an objective opinion about the company’s capabilities, which management found extremely helpful. We even got to tour their factory to see how they produced their products.
In addition to getting to know the company, we visited stores to understand how the CPG and retail industries are different in the US and Brazil. We were struck by the how different the aisles were, particularly the limited variety of brands in Brazil compared to the US. This fieldwork gave us a view into how the company operates in its own backyard, which was crucial to understanding how it might be able to compete in a new market.
After two weeks in country, we shared our findings with the founder (and current owner) of the company, the CEO, and our primary project sponsors. Our presentation focused on sharing our findings from the US market and discussing our observations of the organization’s operations in Brazil. In what turned into more of a conversation than a presentation, we helped the company better understand a potential US entry in the context of other priorities, and were perhaps most happy with the resulting honest dialogue amongst the management team.
Beyond the analysis we conducted, the owner asked each of us how much we personally believed in the idea of a US entry, and listened intently as we each shared our individual positions on whether we would take the venture to the US. He also asked us to present our findings again to his daughter, which again brought us into the extended company family. Overall, the experience taught us a ton about how to run a company at the highest levels.
We also got to know our clients outside of the office. Our main client drove us between the suburb’s five lunch spots, where we quickly became regulars and learned the joy of the two-hour Brazilian lunch. At the end of the project, the CEO took us out for dinner at a phenomenal Italian restaurant as a thank you for our work. It was Italian dining at its finest, where the chef brings incredible food to your table and insults you as a demonstration of how much he cares about you. When a board member of the company asked for a macchiato instead of the standard espresso (requiring the simple addition of a dollop of milk), the chef responded that he could make a macchiato, but had neither the time or desire to do so. He wisely ordered the espresso instead.
The cultural experience:
Two of our team members arrived four days early to experience Sao Paulo before starting our project in Curitiba. Staying in one of the more vibrant parts of the city, Vila Madalena, they experienced Sampa’s vibrant night life, cultural attractions, and expansive mass transit system. While they managed to not to make it to an of the city’s famous Churrhascaria’s, they did get a taste for Brazilian hospitality from the locals, which was only surpassed by the actions of the client.
Once in Curitiba, we learned what it means to be in a World Cup host city weeks before the games begin. Incomplete construction on the roads caused a tremendous amount of traffic, internet wires cut by accident left us sans wifi in the hotel at certain points, and our daily walk took us over ever-changing plots of dirt and grass that used to be sidewalks (and hopefully will be again soon). In spite of this, we were able to get everywhere we needed to go and in the end got a great feel for the region.
Local highlights included a night at a Brazilian club soccer match with our main client and her husband (pictured)! Curitiba was able to grab one point in the standings by tying the score with a second half score (or an equalizer as our English teammate might say).
The Oscar Niemeyer Museum, named for the world-renowned architect and the individual responsible for designing Brasilia, the Brazilian capital, provided both brilliant artchitecture and “unique” portraits (see below).
We also went to the Botanical gardens and experienced their brilliant night life, meeting many interesting “Curitibanos” (Curitiba residents) along the way.
On our second weekend in Brazil, we went to Foz de Iguaçu to see one of the most beautiful sights in the world. We visited the waterfalls on both sides of the Brazilian-Argentinian border.
We also met a gentleman who claimed to be a comedian on a Brazilian TV show that was expanding beyond Brazil into five countries abroad. You can judge if he is who he says he is:
All in all we had a great time in Brazil, both professional and personally. We head back to the US and United Kingdom for summer internships knowing that we were able to contribute to our IBD organization as well as grow personally. We hope that the class of 2016 will be lucky enough to have opportunity to work with our organization again next year for IBD, and join our extended Brazilian family.