Paris and London: pick your side

Paris or London: falling in love with the lovely French accent or being enchanted by the distinctive British humor? Our RLG Paris & London Chazen has come to an end, but we still cannot decide which city stole our heart.

Is it Paris, the capital of luxury, where you can eat a ‘Croque Monsieurs’ in one of the many cafés, where the smell of freshly baked baguettes will reach you from far away, where delicious macarons are served after each meal and where there is always an art exhibition worth seeing?

Or is it London, the fashion capital renowned for its distinctive street style, where pubs are national institutions, where you will never get tired of taking long strolls in one of the many parks, and where the Royal Houses and its inhabitants are among the greatest attractions?

Fascinated by the many distinctiveness, we also noticed the striking similarities: both cities are built around a river (the Seine and the Thames), there is a bohemian neighborhood where artists love to hang out (Montmartre and Chelsea), both cities are home to very prestigious universities (La Sorbonne and HEC, London School of Economies and London Business School), they both have famous amusement parks nearby (Disneyland Paris and Harry Potter World), and there are in both Paris and London globally prestigious Opera Houses (Opera and Royal Opera House).

During this engaging week, we have come to appreciate the beauty of two of the most vibrant cities in Europe: even if the 13 company visits kept us all extremely busy, the romantic atmosphere and the vibrant vibe of these places did not go unnoticed.

G.K. Chersterton said ‘London is a riddle. Paris in an explanation’: why shall we choose,  then, when we can have them both?

~ Alice Signori ’18

London: The Retail Melting Pot

Are you a Harrod’s lover or a Selfridge’s fan? These iconic department stores are as different as they are alike: cool art exhibitions, majestic food halls and an impressive selection of fashion items are just few of the many wonders you will find inside. Still, the two stores have very distinctive brand identities: while Harrods is clearly focused on the luxury segment, placing a lot of attention in creating dedicated spaces for the participants of their selective and aspirational VIP program (such as the penthouse for exclusive private shopping sessions), Selfridges prides itself in being able to delight the full spectrum of consumers, hosting streetstyle in-shop pop-up as well as creating experiences of ‘theatrical retailing’ (as Mr. Selfridge used to call them).

From brick-and-mortal retailing to a champion of the e-commerce: the YNAP headquarters (ironically inside a Mall!) is decorated with minimal design and elegant furniture. Inside the office, though, a vibrant energy permeates the building: from the studios where product shootings happen all day long to the busy meeting rooms where executives are constantly questioning how to remain ahead of the competition.

Remaining in the luxury playing field, but this time dealing with beauty, we visited the majestic townhouse of Jo Malone: a physical representation of the most distinguishing traits of the brand itself. The high-quality materials, the distinctive scents which permeate the house and a sense of elegance and understatement are what this niche luxury brand is all about: with the promise of staying true to itself and its founder’s values, now and forever.

Not only large and established companies are thriving in London; the British capital is considered the Silicon Valley of Europe for the impressive number of startups which it hosts.

Bloom and Wild is the second fastest growing startup in the UK (right after Deliveroo) and one of the few companies who are trying to innovate a very traditional industry: flower gifting.

Bloom and Wild’s aim is to put the emotional value of sending flowers at the center, making sure the gift arrive in the hands of the receiver as beautiful as it has been conceived. The brown box the flowers come in fits in a mailbox, and not only contains a beautiful selection of flowers, but also simple instructions on how to style them. The best thing is that you cannot get it wrong: the flower selection is done is such a way that it will look good even if you follow your creative lead.

More seasoned, but still with a steady growth trajectory is Depop, where we had the privilege of interacting with the CEO herself. This startup focused on vintage clothing is becoming the point of reference for the growing industry in secondary market: an industry which is getting more and traction thanks to the focus on sustainability and waste management that has become prevalent in the last few years.

To conclude our trip, we wanted to understand how breakthroughs in fashion technologies are created. Holition is a young startup which has already achieved a lot: by applying AR to the creation of smart mirrors for Charlotte Tilbury, holographic fashion shows for Dunhill, virtual try on for Uniqlo and smart windows for Hermès, the company is constantly creating innovative solutions keeping the needs of its clients at heart. That is why it prides itself in being ‘a non-tech tech company’ or better, a technological company with a human touch.

And after our last dinner eating tapas in South Kensington, our Paris & London Chazen trip came to an end.

One week, two cities, 13 company visits, more than 25 hours of talks, presentations and Q&A sessions with executives and the management team: and still, we are ready to do it all over again.

~ Alice Signori ’18

Harrods Food Hall
Selfridges in-store popup
Group picture at YNAP
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Group picture at YNAP
YNAP HQ in Westfield
Jo Malone Townhouse
Bloom and Wild – an example of its iconic boxes
Bloom and Wild

London: Where Fashion E-Commerce is Born

Before saying goodbye to the city of lovers, a visit to HEC Paris, the French business school renowned for its finance undergraduate program as well as for its retail and luxury MBA track, was mandatory.

At HEC, Professor Anne Michaut greeted us with a Luxury Master Class designed specifically for our group, where we discussed the importance of brand experience and dissected examples of brands who are getting it right. Be it the Chanel Spa at Ritz-Carlton in Paris (where Coco lived for part of the life), the Land Rover ‘Vanishing Game’ blogged by William Boyd or the Veuve Cliquot castle which hosts VIP guests, the most successful brands are those who are speaking to customers on different dimensions: not only delivering distinctive and recognizable sensory experiences but also emotional, cognitive and relational ones.

A short ride on the TGV brought us to our second stop: London. The English capital greeted us with an expected sunny day which rendered pleasant even-trafficked commutes.

First stop, Farfetch: the luxury e-commerce marketplace that everybody is talking about. The company, who is reported to be ready for an IPO soon, is already partnering with more than 800 brands and active in 190 cities worldwide, with delivery methods that ranges from an outstanding 90 minutes for Gucci items in selected locations to 4 days at the very maximum. According to Farfetch’s executives, the company is more of a technology company rather than a pure retailer and has the overarching goal of connecting customers to their favorite brands ‘for the love of fashion.’ Its special projects, the most famous being the realization of the ‘store of the future,’ are all centered around creating a seamless customer journey that blends the online and the offline experience into a never-ending loop.

Similar concept, but different business model, Asos (which stands for ‘As Seen On Screen’) is a pure e-commerce player with a clear target: the 20-something fashionista. In the London headquarters, shoots are happening all day long: in the 13 studios, 26 models are shooting more than 4,000 new items a week…Quite an impressive turnaround! The stacks of clothes ready to be filed, the models who use corridors as catwalks, and a young and fun atmosphere (the average age of the 3,000 employees orbits around the 20-ish) are the elements that strike a visitor from the start.

To round out the first day in the UK, which better way than drinking a beer at a London pub? While mingling with RLG members of LBS, we got a chance to exchange tips and ideas with our fellow MBA colleagues. In case you were wondering, CBS remains clearly the best choice. It is confirmed. At least in our eyes.

~ Alice Signori ’18

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Professor Michault – HEC Paris
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Farfetch – London Headquarters
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Farfetch – London Headquarters
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ASOS – London Headquarters

Where Haute Couture Meets Technology: the Parisian Formula

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Van Cleef & Arpels

Not yet recovered from the frantic fashion week, Paris welcomed us with its most shining self. The Tour Eiffel lit up, the decorations around the streets and the numerous fashion exhibitions scattered around the city seemed to welcome our group, being the perfect complement to the fascinating company visits.

After a walking tour of Montmartre lead by the founder of ‘A French Frye in Paris’ to discover a secret Paris (did you know that in Montmartre there is the only vineyard producing directly from the city of Paris? Not the best wine in the area – apparently, since the surrounding buildings produce too much shade for the grapes to mature perfectly – but a one-of-a-kind bottle to try), the Chazen study tour kicked off with the Sunday dinner at ‘Le Train Bleu.’ Tasting the delicacies that the French cuisine offers while being surrounded by painted ceilings and wooden interiors was the perfect preparation for the week ahead.

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Van Cleef & Arpels

Off to a great start with the triple treat at Van Cleef & Arpels, where we had the unique opportunity of visiting the Haute Joaillerie laboratory: the place were the most unique pieces are crafted by hand with a process that can take as long as one full year. The pieces of art crafted in this laboratory are among the most iconic and precious ever made, ranging from the tiara made for Princess Charlene of Monaco to the iconic zipper necklace for which the Maison is well known or the ‘mystery sliding’ techniques which allows Van Cleef to hide the metal structure of the jewel under the gems.

L’école at Van Cleef & Arpels

After the laboratory, we visited l’École, a unique and very successful concept sponsored by the brand but run by full-time Professors whose aim is to transmit the love and knowledge of the jewelry industry to a wider public: spanning a wide range of classes and topics, it is worth a visit next time you happen to be in town. The last stop of our triple tour was the boutiques in Place Vendome, with their antique book archives and the ongoing exhibitions. In line with Van Cleef’s ability of embracing new technologies, the most complicated pieces were displayed with a QR code, to access the online information page and complement the offline experience with an online touch.

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Speaking of Artificial Intelligence application, we could have not landed in a better place than Heuritech. This startup company specialized in luxury has developed a proprietary technology based on deep learning which scans Instagram images to provide a precise feedback on the brands’ following. In fact, 81% of the content posted on Instagram remains hidden to the brand: very few people will tag all the brands they are wearing in each picture, making each item difficult to be traced by the brand itself. Heuritech’s technology allows the brand to benchmark its performance relative to its competitors, by teaching the machine how to recognize a certain item with an accuracy level that can arrive at 99%: an interesting application which has not gone unnoticed in the industry and that has already been awarded with the LVMH innovation award for 2017.

Women @ Dior

As a last minute surprise, the group was graciously invited to take part in the ‘Women @ Dior’ event: a two-day event where Dior mentors are reunited with their mentees to start a one-year journey together. The program is designed for women approaching the job market for the first time who will benefit from seasoned executives’ mentorship on how to better shape their career in the short and long-term. The essence of this initiative (already at its second edition) is explained by the words of Christian Dior itself: ‘Women, with their unfailing instinct, doubtlessly realized that my dream was to make them not only more beautiful, but happier too.’

After the Conference, Dior invited us to join the participants of the program for an evening reception where to meet and network with talented young women: sipping the signature champagne of the house and staring at the Tour Eiffel shining from not too far away, I caught myself wondering…. What else?

~ Alice Signori ’18

Welcome dinner at ‘Le Train Bleu’

When dreams come true: the trip that every retail-lover has been waiting for

Have you ever wondered how jewels are made? Or what does it take to manage the most important malls in the world? Or which are the most successful online selling strategies? A group of 20 students enrolled in the RLG Chazen Paris & London will make the dream of every Retail-lover come true: visiting those companies featured in the daily news and dictating fashion trends all over the globe.

From industry disruptors (Farfetch and YNAP) to veteran companies (Asos and Harrods), we will be granted the unique opportunity of getting in touch with the executives who are shaping the industry, getting access to companies’ best kept secrets and discovering what does it take to be a successful retail startup. This one-of-a-kind experience will be led by Professor Akinola and the three organizers Marta Cuenca, Karen Fahmy and Heather Li.

After having attended a master class crafted specifically for us by a renowned HEC Professor, having participated into the debate regarding the future of retail hosted by Galeries Lafayette and Facebook’s executives and toured the atélier of Van Cleef & Arpels, it will be time to fall in love with French cuisine, stroll in London’s parks and visit the famous cultural attractions of both cities. Pairing your coffee with a pan au chocolate, tasting a fresh macaron, blending with peers during the mixer with the Retail & Luxury Goods Club of London Business School (LBS), checking out the best pub in London or trying to decide which city has the best restaurants and the most active nightlife will be key in making the trip a real success also outside the meeting rooms.

When asking the organizers to provide a short preview on the week ahead, they made it clear: “It will be a blast!”.

À bientôt à Paris!

Alice Signori ’18

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The Brazilian ‘ABC’: the best of Brazil, from ‘A’ to ‘Z’

The challenge was ambitious: grasp the fundamentals of Brazil’s culture and economy through an immersive week of meetings and tourism. Have we achieved our goals? Are we able to understand which are the challenges and opportunities Brazil will face in the next few years? As future managers, will we put at productive use our learnings by better handling business in Brazil?

The answer to these questions is not easy nor brief, thus we asked the executives of the companies we visited to provide some insights. Ana Corrêa do Lago, one of our hosts at Natura, defines the main challenge of Brazil as Political stability and reinforcement of the green agenda’, while she highlights as the country main assets ‘People’s warmth and resilience, great modernist architecture (i.e. Brasilia), and outstanding and varied green landscape. Many countries assembled in one!’.

Indeed, Brazil is a multi-faceted country in terms of population, demographic, morphology and even cuisine. To navigate it, you need to understand the ‘Brazilian ABC’: the best of Brazil from ‘A’ to ‘Z’.

 Açai – Now popular all over the world for its nutritional properties, this berry originally from Brazil is at best when eaten frozen, with few slices of banana on top.

Beleza – The cool way of saying ‘Hi’ among the youngest. The perfect start when you want to feel like a local.

Caipirinha – The national drink, made with cahaça and a zest of lemon, to be enjoyed from sunset to sunrise.

Dulche de leche – Argentinian will refuse to  admit that Brazilians have mastered the recipe of ‘dulche de leche’, but this versatile dessert gets as delicious as it sounds.

Empanada – Forget the diet: bolhino, empanada and churros are only few of the many fried snacks that you will encounter. Totally worth the calories.

Farufa – The local version of ‘couscous’ and an alternative to ‘arroz’ (rice). Often served as a side in typical restaurants.

Gente – Literally translated as ‘People’, it is a popular way of addressing the crowd.

Havaianas – The most famous Brazilian brand: the colorful flip-flops are sold and worn literarily everywhere. Just one warning: it is impossible to restrain from buying them.

Ipanema – One of the most famous beaches of Rio de Janeiro, together with Copacabana and Leme. At Ipanema you can get the best view of the ‘brothers’: two rocks characterizing Rio’s skyline.

Leblond – One of the most beautiful and popular neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.

MASP – The biggest museum of São Paulo, hosting the largest collection of European arts in the Southern Hemisphere.

Não –  Just to get the basics right, ‘não’ is ‘no’. In case you are wondering, its opposite is ‘Si’.

Obrigado – The first word you will learn and probably the only one you will master by the end of the trip. Works better when accompanied with a smile.

Pão de Açúcar – One of the greatest attractions in Rio de Janeiro. These twin mountains connected by a cable car are a great spot to get a 360 views of the city.

Queijo – … Or better, ‘Pão de Queijo’, are amazing cheese puffs you will be offered from breakfast to dinner.

Rio de Janeiro – No words can explain the beauty of this city: just add it to your bucket list and go check it out!

São Paulo – Paulisti will argue with Carioca on which is the most beautiful city of Brazil. While it is always worth abstaining from such a dispute, São Paulo is for sure the widely recognized business center of the country.

Telenovela – Telenovela and soccer are the favorite forms of entertainment of each Brazilian household. Worth watching one episode to understand why.

Ucuba – A precious seed growing in the Amazon now used in many moisturizers. Not (yet) able to make miracles, but it is as close as you can get.

Villa Madalena – A neighborhood famous for street arts, it is one of the unmissable spots in São Paulo. Mark your map.

Zouk – A traditional dance. Not as popular as the Brazilian ‘Samba’, but danced everywhere from nightclubs to Carnival parties.

~Alice Signori ‘18

São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro: Guess which is our favorite city?

In a country where only 85% of the population has access to basic sanitation, but virtually 100% has access to a TV set, a visit to Globo, the major media company in Brazil, is a mandatory stop.

While strolling into ‘telenovelas’ sets and pretending to be the characters of the Brazilian ‘Game of Thrones,’ our hosts explained the impact that telenovelas, and thus Globo with its ‘100 years of stories,’ have on the local population. Not only sentimental comedies, but often sensitive topics are discussed throughout a whole series, soliciting a real call to action from the audience: for example, when the main character of a telenovela was diagnosed with cancer (luckily only for the sake of the plot), a surge in the blood donation throughout the overall country was suddenly registered.

After such a dense and interesting week of Brazilian immersion, the question seems natural: what’s better, São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro? The class has a clear answer: 63% of the surveyed sample thinks Rio rocks it. Wondering why? The great beaches, the breathtaking views, the presence of one of the ‘Wonders of the World’ (Christ the Redeemer), and the carnival spirits (and parties) pervading the entire city have clearly captured the CBS’s crew. Still, what’s in São Paulo that makes it a though competitor? Its role as an undiscussed business center, being a capital of great food and posh clubs as well as being pervaded by an elegant atmosphere are all elements contributing in making this city a great choice especially for a long-term perspective.

Clearly not ready to face the thermal and emotional shock that going back to the cold New York city and the busy business school’s schedule requires, there is only one thing left to say: ‘Muito Obrigado Brazil’, it has really been a blast.

~Alice Signori ‘18

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Christ the Redeemer
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São Paulo
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Rio de Janeiro

From São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro: when Social Responsibility is a way of being

‘Bem estar bem’: at Natura wellbeing is not a buzzword, but the overall company mission. The holding company of ‘Aesop’ who recently acquired also ‘The Body Shop’ showcases right from its tagline the dedication in making a positive impact not only for its clients, but for the overall planet. To pursue this objective, Natura has introduced a number of innovative tools, such as the Environmental P&L, the triple bottom line management of suppliers and various projects aimed at preserving the best of Brazil, such as the effort in teaching local populations in the Amazonia how to exploit what natures has to offer while preserving the native environment.

Customer service is in Brazil’s DNA: Azul, the airline founded in 2008 by David Neeleman (the owner of JetBlue and WestJet), is already the 3rd best airline in the world for 2017 according to TripAdvisor’s ratings. The unconventional approach in the airline industry allows Azul to be the number 1 in 75% of routes served and to achieve customer loyalty through a focus on punctuality and proximity to customers’ needs.

Different city, but same priorities: headquartered in Rio De Janeiro, BNDES in one of the largest development banks in the world. With a net profit of roughly 6 billion reals in 2016, BNDES’ priority is to help Brazil prosper. From micro-enterprises to companies and municipalities, BNDES has issued 5.600 disbursements only in 2016, with the overarching objective of making money while helping Brazil’s advance both at the local and global level. As BNDES teaches during the very first training given to its employees ‘Our name starts with a ‘B’ which stands for ‘Bank,’ and that it’s first. But our name also ends with an ‘S’ which stands for ‘Social,’ and this comes second’.

Helping pursue the priorities of the country is something that many Brazilian businesspeople have at heart: it has for sure been a driving value for Jorge Paulo Lemann, the founder of Gera, a VC focused in investing in early-stage education who wants to make a difference in the lives of many young kids. To touch with hands the impact that this VC is already achieving, our meeting was hosted in one of the main (and most beautiful!) schools in which Gera has invested money and talent. Latest technologies and unconventional teaching methodologies (negotiation and public speaking classes are the bread-and-butter of kids from kindergarten to 12th grade), the ambitious goal of the VC is to close the Brazilian education gap, using a bottom-up approach which should complement the parallel work done by the government itself.

Enough of speaking about business: Rio’s incredible vibe and its break-taking views have not gone unnoticed by our CBS crew. Watching the sunset at the Sugarloaf was worth the trip: the sun slowly dropping into the sea was a natural wonder (and a great Instagram favorite).

Finally, the long beaches which surround Rio’s lagoons are a sweet and irresistible call. With temperatures reaching 93 degrees Fahrenheit these days, we are really looking forward to our Friday afternoon at the beach. After all, that’s not how all Friday should look like?

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Natura’s factory
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Natura’s shop
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Azul Headquarter
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BNDES presentation
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Tour of Eleva School with Gera
Sunset at the Sugarloaf
Farewell Dinner in Rio de Janeiro

~Alice Signori ‘18

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‘Brazil is not for amateurs, it’s for professionals’

There is always a key to understand a country. According to Patria, the Brazilian Private Equity firm partially owned by Blackstone, the magic formula is a blend of discipline and long-term investment. While Forex exchange fluctuations and the frequent economic downturns that characterize the Brazilian economy frequently make the international news, the reality is that over the long-term the Brazilian economy has showed a tendency to ‘regress towards the mean’. By investing in resilient sectors and taking a very disciplined approach, it is thus possible to obtain significant returns and long-term profitability even in such a difficult country.

Also at Embraer, one of the major aircraft manufacturers in the world, the forty-eight years old company history is a confirmation of its outstanding success. Still family-owned and now a billion making company, Embraer is characterized by the coexistence of difference business sectors, a strong focus on people and by a very high level of innovation. Particularly inspiring was the (surprise) visit from the CEO, who highlighted how in an industry where a single mistake can cost billions of dollars, it is of crucial importance to acquire talents and to have the best business people on board.

On with our company visit, we had the chance to understand the strategies leading Cosan, a huge conglomerate managing businesses as diverse as railroads and gas distribution, and who is convinced that by a strong discipline and a savvy portfolio management it is possible to ‘make a difference in this country’.

Finally, we spent an afternoon wandering around the campus of Itàu, the first bank of Brazil. At Itàu, we had the unique opportunity to take a tour of its proprietary art collection (the 8th largest corporate collection in the world!) and to discuss the future of banking and its digital transformation. Closing the circle right where we started, our guests proudly shared why many foreign companies are not thriving in a country where there is huge space for growth. ‘Brazil is not for amateurs, it’s for professionals’: same recipe, but spelt in different words.

And finally, to understand a country, there is no better way than wandering around the city and making the best out of it. After a walking tour of the city center, a stop at Vila Madalena and Beco de Batman where street art prospers, a visit to the Brazilian’s Central Park (Park Ibirapuera) and a lunch break spent visiting the MASP museum, where the largest collection of European art of the Southern Hemisphere is treasured, we learned a fun fact about São Paulo. Unlike their carioca cousins, Paulisti do not have beaches. How they compensate? Having the best Malls and calling them ‘their beaches’. Hard to miss the resemblance: a part from the long-hours spent there and the warm heat filtering through the large glass windows, Malls display similar therapeutically effects as beaches. For each hour (and dollar) spent, there is a significant surge in mood and relaxation. Money back guarantee.

~Alice Signori ‘18

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Itàu Art collection
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City tour
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Graffiti – Street Art

‘It’s not difficult to disguise in Brazil, it’s unnecessary.’

‘What’s next for Brazil? It has been said about Italy – It’s not difficult to govern Italy, it’s unnecessary –  I would say about Brazil – It’s not difficult to disguise in Brazil, it’s unnecessary.’ Fernando Cardoso, former President of Brazil, concluded his address at Columbia University last November with these provoking words. Why and what is Brazil disguising? What is preventing such a large a powerful nation from growing faster than China or to transition from the developing to the developed world? And, more importantly, which are the businesses and people who are driving the change?

If even Mr. Cardoso struggles in finding the perfect answer, we can be granted some pardon as well. Or at least some of the time. The Fall 2017 Global Immersion Program in Brazil is about to start: not only a week dedicated to the the discovery of Brazil and of immersing in the Brazilian culture, but also a one of a time opportunity to let each student develop a personal perspective on the future of Brazil.

The official kickoff of the GIP Fall 2017 is scheduled for this Sunday, the 14th of January in São Paulo. During the following week, a group of 30 students lead by Professor Medini Singh and his Teaching Assistant Maria Morad will have the unique opportunity to visit some of the best Brazilian companies. The program is packed, with more than 10 visits scattered across São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, spanning across a pool of diverse industries. From aircraft manufacturing to venture capitalist, from media companies to beer giants, and from wellness to banking, the Global Immersion will hold true to the long-lasting Columbia promise of ‘being at the center of business.’

While company visits will give an unconventional glance on the business side of Brazil, the cultural and social side will not be overlooked: after all, let’s not forget we are still (MBA) students. Afternoon and nights will be dedicated not only to enjoying the warm Brazilian summer (which will hit us up after this extremely cold NY winter), but also to check out of our bucket lists some unmissable sightseeing (such as the ‘Cristo Redentor,’ one of the ‘Beauty of the World’), as well as to enjoy the preparations for the upcoming Carnival in Rio.

Are you already green with envy and wishing to have bid for the coolest Fall GIP? No worries: we will keep you posted. In between one caipirinha and the next.

Até logo!

~Alice Signori ’18