Our Global Immersion Program kicked off on Sunday night with a group dinner, where we ate a lot of cheese bread (pao de queijo) and a steak the size of my head (since arriving in Brazil I’ve learned that Brazilians love to eat meat). Our wonderful Paulistano TA, Lucas Sancassani ’14 then showed us a snippet of the local nightlife: he took us to a lively neighborhood where we drank Brahma and caipirinhas whilst the locals watched soccer and danced samba. More of that to come later this week we hope!
Our first meeting was with the consulting firm, Booz & Co, where Partner, Luiz Vieira, gave us a detailed overview of the Brazilian economy. Brazil has the 5th largest population in the world at 200m and has the 7th largest economy with GDP of $2.4tr. It is predominantly a commodity based economy and is the world’s largest producer and exporter of sugar, coffee and orange juice. Social programs implemented in recent years have drastically improved income inequality, reducing the number of people living on less than $1.25 per day from 15% in 2003 to only 5% in 2012, although Luiz also pointed out of the office window to the neighboring favela, so clearly there is still some way to go. Additionally, the middle class segment has expanded from 18% of the population in 2004 to 32% in 2012 presenting huge opportunity for businesses.
Overall, the takeaway for me was that there is a great deal of opportunity and potential for growth in Brazil. However, there are many things that could derail the country, in particular the rise of a populist government similar to that which is causing havoc in Argentina at the moment. Other challenges include the lack of infrastructure, low levels of education amongst the poorer segments of society and the bureaucratic barriers in place that make it difficult for international firms to operate in Brazil.
We spent our afternoon touring the campus of cosmetics company, Natura. The site is absolutely stunning, with very unique architecture framed by the beautiful Brazilian landscape. Natura operates on a model similar to Avon, employing 1.5m ‘consultants’ (mainly women) across Brazil and Latin America, who sell products on to consumers. Natura places a lot of emphasis on biodiversity and sustainability since it sources many of its ingredients directly from the Amazon rainforest. It has an extremely flexible factory, which allows production to change according to demand, requiring from 15 minutes to 2.5 hours downtime as the machines change between products.
We ended the day with drinks at Skye Bar at the Unique Hotel, overlooking the sprawling Sao Paulo skyline and where we also met with another group of CBSers who are in town for the PE/VC trek. A quick Lebanese dinner with Professor Martinez, then early to bed since we have an early start in the morning…
Clare Skirrow ’14, Sao Paulo, Brazil