Part 2: An International MBA Experience: Global Business Project in Brazil
The team (clockwise from left): Victor, Julio, Shingo, Fabio, Mayra, Viviane, and me
Krista Sande-Kerback '14
Thursday, July 11, 2013 - 10:30am

After four months of working together virtually, my Global Business Project (GBP) team was excited to reunite for an in-country kickoff weekend in Porto Alegre, Brazil, followed by two weeks at our client’s office in São Paulo.  As I described in my previous blog, we’re a team of MBA students from different universities and we have been working on a supply chain optimization project for the life sciences division of a major global company.  The project was a fascinating experience that allowed us to really dive into the client’s operations, draw on our past experiences, and build our knowledge of practical consulting frameworks for structuring a professional consulting engagement.

Our team had a lot of fun in Porto Alegre, where we met up with the other groups in Brazil for three days of programming. We received advice from guest lecturers about doing business in Brazil (the country is projected to grow from the #9 economy in the world to #6), and spent time reviewing feedback from our peers and thinking about how to best execute the final phase of our project.  We also enjoyed some local sightseeing in the form of a “competition” that used the Portuguese skills that we acquired through language classes and team cultural activities over the last few months. For instance, we were given an assignment to interview locals in Portuguese about their favorite parts of the park or what they were buying in the market.  Our team got second place for our presentation and some fun prizes to go along with it. We also engaged in a quick jam session on guitar with a friendly couple in the park!  We enjoyed dinner at an all-you-can-eat churrascaria, a restaurant where meat is cooked in Churrasco style (a rough translation from the Portuguese word for “barbecue”).


Once we arrived at our client site in São Paulo, our workload intensified as we arranged meetings with people across the company (they were very accommodating), gathered data, and synthesized our findings. We performed much of our analysis in subgroups and came together in the evening to share and practice “pitching” our findings and to get team feedback.  We were grateful to have a highly engaged team with members of different personal and professional backgrounds. This helped us to have a well-rounded approach and bring in useful frameworks to enhance our analyses and credibility.  Delicious Brazilian food and coffee kept us going during the long days!


A couple of highlights of our first week on the ground: five team members visited one of the client’s logistics providers to understand more about this part of the client’s supply chain, and two of us trekked to Campinas to visit important customers within the academic community.  As I was focused on the customer experience portion of the project, it was valuable for me to have the chance to talk to customers firsthand about their research, their needs in terms of equipment and consumable supplies, and their experience working with our client and its competitors.  Some of the customers were scientists conducting significant research and it was fascinating to learn about their experiences in order to build a compelling “story” around the customer experience, in addition to analyzing survey results and data regarding customer orders.

Once we finished our data gathering and analysis, the race was on to get ready for our final presentation.  Indeed, we pulled some very late nights over the weekend and we were all extremely relieved when the PowerPoint presentation finally came together during two days of aggressive review.  We had to shorten our 98 slides of content (plus appendices) to about half of that!  On the day of our final presentation, we were fortunate to have a large audience of stakeholders – over 30 people from across the company division – who devoted two hours to listen to all of us and ask questions about the research and analysis that we had performed.  The company is in the middle of transformational change on a global level and they have a lot of work ahead of them, but they were enthusiastic about our recommendations and wanted to develop a plan for implementing them over the next year.  We definitely plan to stay in touch to hear about their progress. The experience was positive on many levels. The opportunity to participate in a global consulting project, and learn about an area of business – operations – that, as a result, I’d like to continue studying during the second year of my MBA was invaluable.  I also feel like I hit the jackpot in terms of having a fantastic team.

Upon concluding the project, the team had a couple of free days to relax and enjoy São Paulo.  We explored the large Ibirapuera Park for an afternoon, wandered around the municipal market (along with a teeming mass of humanity… I have rarely seen so many people in one place!), sampled a lot of local cuisine, danced to live music in the evenings, cheered at a soccer game, and more.


As I head back to the United States for my summer internship, I can’t help but feel a little bit sad that since we attend different business schools, I won’t see my teammates back at Columbia next fall.  However, we are already brainstorming ideas for future reunions!


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