Feeling Brazil's Pulse
Walking along the bustling streets of Sao Paulo, 13 students from the Tepper School of Business gazed up at the towering skyscrapers before stepping into the sleek, modern headquarters of Banco Itau.
Here inside one of the world's largest banks, the students felt the pulse of Brazil's booming economy.
The frenzied deal-making became one of the many revelations on their March 2011 trek to Latin America.
"Brazil is the place to be," said Juan Pablo Rubiano-Groot, MBA 2011 candidate.
"It was a real eye opener to see the volume and types of deals they are doing. We thought it might be a little slower. But it was like a parallel universe to New York or London or Tokyo. The optimism about the country is contagious."
Rubiano-Groot, president of the school's Latin American Business Club, had organized the trek and packed it with business and cultural stops in Brazil and Argentina.
He and others at the Tepper School had been working hard to build connections with South American contacts such as Brazilian alumnus Marcelo Ariel Rosenhek (MSIA '93), a bank executive.
Rosenhek was one of the many Brazilians the group encountered who was feeling bullish about the nation's fast-growing economy.
In fact, Rubiano-Groot, a native of Colombia who recently accepted a job offer from McKinsey & Company's Pittsburgh division, was so impressed by Brazil that he vowed to learn Portuguese to avail himself of the thriving business opportunities there.
The students further deepened their appreciation of Sao Paolo's robust economy while touring the bustling BM&FBOVESPA, the electronic stock exchange.
Another stop along the trek brought students to San Jose dos Campos, Brazil, to visit the global headquarters of Embraer.
Representatives from the aircraft-manufacturing giant had recently traveled to the Tepper School to participate in "Managing and Enterprise of the Future," a class in which groups of students consult with global business executives on real-world problems.
Embraer's massive manufacturing plant captivated Rubiano-Groot.
"We got to see the huge planes being made, everywhere from the bolts on the floor to the place where they painted them," he said. "It was very cool."
For better or worse, Carnegie Mellon's 2011 spring break coincided with the Brazilian Carnival, which brought business in Rio de Janeiro to a screeching, three-day halt.
Rubiano-Groot scrambled to reroute the trek during the planning phase, after learning that every last hotel room in Rio had been booked. In the end, Tepper students spent the holiday in true local style, samba dancing alongside colorful floats on the island of Florianopolis.
"Everyone was dancing late into the night," said Antoni Abella Vendrell, MBA candidate 2011 and a native of Barcelona, Spain. "Everyone was so happy."
If Brazil had dancing in the streets, Buenos Aires had European sophistication — and less bravado about the economy.
"The people there said, 'We have been through crises. But we keep fighting. Meanwhile, let us tango and have a good time.' It is a fantastic city," Vendrell said.
The students tasted Argentine culture by attending both a tango performance and a futbol (soccer) match. They also toured Tenaris, a steel pipe manufacturer.
At Argentina's Universidad de San Andres, the students listened to economics professor Roberto Dvoskin who challenged the conventional wisdom on marketing to the poor.
"When you advertise consumer mass goods or luxury goods, you might be ignoring about 40 percent of the world's population that lives on a couple dollars a day,'' Rubiano-Groot recalls Dvoskin saying.
"He flipped the way we thought about marketing," said Rubiano-Groot. "Often the poor are more value-conscious than price-conscious.
They are often brand-loyal because they know buying the best delivers the best bang for their buck. He told us to try to put ourselves in their shoes. That is the hardest thing for someone who has never lived below the poverty level."
Pictured above, from L to R: Tepper students Raffaello Trofa, Stephanie Shapiro, Sameer Karim