вторник, 12 апреля 2011 г.

Andrei Sidorin: "Brazilians name their country a tropical Russia".

SKOLKOVO Executive MBA second class's international module in Brazil is over but we still have many interesting details about it we are willing to share with you. Andrei Sidorin, SKOLKOVO EMBA Programme Operations Director, is speaking today about the trip, details of its preparation, peculiarities of Brazilian people and many other things.

Andrei, please tell us what does the SKOLKOVO Executive MBA programme International module involve? And why was Brazil chosen to be the assignment country this year?

It is not a secret that SKOLKOVO education is very much focused on the emerging markets and BRIC countries in particular. The programme is rather young and we constantly try to improve it, to make it more interesting and useful by changing and adding new things. And by all means the deep dive into the real environment is one of the most important elements of the programme. Last year our Executive MBA students went to China and this year we decided to try Brazil. Having good partnership between SKOLKOVO and the Brazilian school FDC made it easy to firmly decide on this choice.

How did you prepare for the trip? Did it take a long time?

That was a whole process. Actually we started preparations a year in advance – right upon our return from China. Our Chinese trip was organized for us by the contractor – a business tourism company, whereas with the Brazilian module we decided to do everything ourselves.

In general the concept remained the same: to show the students the real business linked to the cultural and market features of the country and local mindset habits; to see the social specifics and lifestyle of diferent social stratas. And we received great support from the FDC business school.

In addition to the last year’s curriculum (when half of the time was spent in corporate visits and another half – in studying the cultural aspects) we introduced several practical workshops. Though still the main emphasis was given to corpoate visits – to large and small companies, locals and multinationals, of various business spheres – in order to give the students an opportunity to compare the business specifics, as multinationals face one type of problemas and locals having grown into large monsters – another one, and so on.

I know that you have carried out the Emerging Markets module in advance – could you please tell us more about it… 

Yes, that’s right. Nearly a month before the trip we had a preparation module devoted to the business specifics at the emerging markets. Dr. Wilfried Vanhonacker, SKOLKOVO Dean, has told the students about China, Professor Reuben Abraham from the Indian School of Business – about India, and Professor Aldemir Drummond from FDC – about Brazil, which was extremely useful ahead of our trip (note: an interview with Professor Drummond you can find here

The professors spoke about corporate strategies for those markets and their differences: who are the customers, the vendors, the partners, which difficulties they face, etc. They touched upon the M&A issues and the regulatory specifics, told about the options of entering the BRIC markets. For example, in order to enter the Chinese market the company must employ the state as the member of the Board, or else create a joint venture with a Chinese company. In Brazil it is easier – understanding some tax specifics will be enough.

They also shared some of their thoughts regarding business education in those countries. There was an interesting picture within the presentation – depicting Indian students who went out on the night streets of one of the cities and were trying to read some corporate finance books, and because of the elecrticity shortage they had to light up the books with their cell phones. As for the workshops on cross-cultural differences of the businessmen, we carried those out on the spot, in Brazil.


What was the most difficult thing about the module preparation?

Negotiations with the companies we planned to visit – that was a long and operose process. On the one hand, it took us much time and effort to explain to the companies’ representatives the benefits of meeting students for the directors and vice-presidents of the corporations. On the other hand, it was not easy to get used to the Brazilian communication and negotiations style which is rather slow, you know. That is what makes them very different from the Russians and surely makes the negotiations process much longer in terms of confirmations and agreements. Yet we did manage it and I think both parties were happy enough!

How did you choose the companies for the visits?

We studied our students’ profiles in detail in order to pick up the industries most interesting to them – IT, finance, real estate, etc. After that we chose the companies working in those industries. Of course not all the companies were eager to accommodate us but most of them were quite hospitable. And still, I will repeat, the negotiations process was rather hard and lengthy. They didn’t see their own motivation.
However during the meetings the Brazilians were positively surprised by the high level of our students and their questions, erudition, and business grip.

At large it needs to be noted that when compareding the Executive MBA students from SKOLKOVO and FDC one would say ours are really more senior. I think it is much connected to the approach to the education itself: most of our students are managers of the top level or business owners who decide to aquire the MBA degree by themselves, whereas most of the Brazilian students are middle-level managers being sent to the business school by their corporations which also finance their education. If transfer them to the SKOLKOVO system – they would be somewhere between the MBA and Executive MBA level of experience.

So were your expectations satisfied?

Ours as a school – definitely yes. And as for the students, we hear only positive feedback from them also – in terms of the filling content, academic part, corporate visits, and outcomes for them in the end.


If speaking generally, what is the main goal of this week-long international module within a framework of the Executive MBA programme? What does it give out?

Having a major focus on emerging markets and BRIC countries in particular we see the goal of the international module for the students to study out how the economics on these markets grow and what rules do work there – in order to have an opportunity to borrow their experience for their own Russian businesses. And this seems fair enough – taking into account that three of them – Brazil, India and China – are all the countries with large population with comparatively low income. And still they learned how to sell Louis Vuitton in China, and how to sell rather expensive Natura cosmetics in Brazil, and etc. They know how to build their business perfectly, on the one hand tuning to the poor social segments and on the other – actively developing the luxury goods market. I am sure their valuable experience is quite applicable for Russia!

Which companies were the most remarkable?

We got some interesting and useful insight from every company we visited. If talking of something astonishing, for me it was Unilever. Here is the example: when you arrive in Brazil the first thing to strike your eye (actually your nose) is the smell of freshness – everywhere, in the airport, in the bus, in the hotel… And the country seems so tidy! Yet in Unilever we were told that the fresh smell in Brazil is generally associated with tidyness. I may exxagerate it a bit but overall the idea is the following: if the place is not so clean but smells good, then you think it’s clean. And the company played on this habit: they cut some desinfectioning components and added more fragrances to their cleaning supplies – thus the products became cheaper and the favella dwellers could afford them. And there are millions of people living in shabby favellas – what a potential for business development!

Ok, and if speaking about cultural features – did anything amazed or stick in your memory?

Brazilian culture is very young, dated only from 1880 – beforehand it was a Portuguese colony. An interesting factor which is the Brazailian pride is that the whole country, which is a large territory, speaks the same language – Portuguese. They made a comparison with the tiny Switzerland where people may not understand each other living in distant parts of the country. That factor by the way was one of the facilitators for the spread of Brazilian soap operas – you shoot it once and show it to millions of people all over the country. We visited the TV Globo movie studio – one of the most world-famous – and learned there that Brazil is the second country in the world after Japan to consume the media products. The studio continues to be very busy with shootings – by all means with constant market adjustments – instead of the famous “Escrava Isaura” they now use some science fiction stories.

We also visited some truly cultural and historic places – and ancient Ouro Preto town, for example – the capital of the famous “Golden Road”, the chain of the major gold mainfields in the 18th century. It was the first town in Brazil to be named the World Heritage by UNESCO. There is a cathedral in the town that is one of the most richly decorated in the world – and that impresses a lot!


What made you choose those particular cities for your trip - Belo Horizonte, Sao Paulo and Rio?

We wanted to see the different Brazil. Sao Paulo for example is a rather faceless city of the sand color whose quarters look so much alike – the same offices, shops and restaurants – but what a thrill it is in terms of business life! In Rio it is an absolutely different world! In spite of the same huge buildings the ocean nearby makes everyone’s mood relaxed and sort of beach-alike. And Belo Horizonte which is the third largest city in the country (around 22 mln people live in Sao Paulo, 8 – in Rio and 7 – in Belo) seems so simple and modest and impresses a lot on the contrast with the so colorful Rio or so business-style Sao Paulo.

Did you notice any peculiarities in the Brazilians themselves?

They are very easy-going and open-hearted, though a bit slow and hardly changing their opinion. And they are so positive! It’s so easy to deal with them! By the way, it may seem strange but Brazilians themselves name their country ‘a tropical Russia’.

Their attitude to the Russians is very good – actually they are benevolent to everyone. What is really important – they build everything on communication. For instance, instead of writing a letter to their colleague they would just come up to him and discuss everything in person. And communication plays crucial role in the Brazilian companies’ strategies. One of the professors told us a story of the Embraer – the planes manufacturer. The company was famous in constructing ordinary planes which were not in great demand but once they figured out that the flights between European cities needed planes for 80-100 passengers not for 200-300. They calculated it out, made a market forecast taking into account the future growth of the business and corporate segment – and soon they were the first to capture this market! Their business was successfully developing while in parallel the world was already watching the development of small personal jets – yet Embraer didn’t think of this segment as a one with high prospects. Meanwhile the Embraer concept was to have all the vendors’ representatives sitting together on site so that those involved in the planes’ construction had an opportunity to communicate informally. And once over a coffee chat with one of the engineers who just came back from his Japan trip the chief constructor asked him about his journey impressions – they talked about different issues and came across the point of Honda having plans to build the planes, that was widely talked about in Japan then. That time Honda was the first company in Japan having such ambitions and a project of a 6-7-seated plane ready but didn’t possess the capacities of Embraer. Thus Embraer cane out with their own personal jet – having learned about the plans of Honda, which could have become their serious competitor, from a casual talk. Thus we see what a role does communication play in Brazilian companies.


Andrei, here is my last question: the next class is going to India, right? :)

It may (he laughs). Seriously speaking, we decided that the third, fourth and all the next classes will have an opportunity to choose the direction they are most interested in and divided into groups they will go the country most appealing to them. We thought it would be better not to impose one single option, as the students should have a freedom of choice – thus the module would be more fruitful for them.


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