Interview: Marc Burbridge of the Omnium Global Executive MBA

Marc Burbridge

Brazil’s future growth potential has long been considered colossal. That future is arriving today, making it an exciting time for international students there. This according to Marc Burbridge, who teaches negotiation and conflict resolution at several universities in Brazil, as well as the Omnium Global Executive MBA program and Business School São Paulo

Why do international students come to Brazil?
In the new economy – well, this has been going on for about five years – but particularly today, it has to do with the fact that Brazil is playing such a leading role in the G20. And it’s an upcoming economy.

There’s an expression in Brazil – that Brazil is the land of the future, and always will be. Brazilians make that joke about themselves because it always will be, because they’ll never get there. But I think that the future is arriving today.

How does Brazil’s economy stay so strong? And what are some of the country’s stronger industries?

The economy here was not based totally on exports – as some economies like Japan’s were. Exports are important, but not the major element of the economy. So the internal consumption is a strong point. In that respect, they’re the second economy, probably to China, in terms of the minimal effect of this whole global recession.

The automobile industry continues to be strong here – the sales are breaking records, contrary to most places in the world. I think that many of the agribusinesses here are continued growth areas. Brazil’s climate gives it a tremendous advantage. Other than that, the service industry, obviously is the main growth area – today, relatively few people are working in industry. So if we talk about industrial policy we should talk about service policy in the country, in terms of growth. But certainly in service areas, the ability to grow is unlimited. Information technology, internet, continues to be very strong – all aspects of internet, and communications.

Should international MBA students learn Portuguese before they come to Brazil?

Well, it’s certainly necessary to live comfortably. When I came to Brazil in 1968, I didn’t speak a word of Portuguese when I got on the plane. So I got on with the difficult task of learning Portuguese here. If you can learn some Portuguese before you come, it can be very helpful. But it’s not going to affect your studies if you’re studying in an English-language program. And unless you’re fluent in Portuguese, you have to study in an English-language program.

There are two levels of Portuguese, one is sufficient to get around. That, you can pick up quickly. Brazilians are very friendly. If you show that you’re trying to learn the language; they’ve got a good sense of humor. They’ll joke about it, they’ll help you along – they’re very friendly. But if you’re going to be working in the language, that’s something that you have to have complete fluency to do.

To do business in Brazil, although many companies say that English is their language, day to day, to be practical, you’re going to need Portuguese. At the American Chamber of Commerce, for example, the principal language spoke is Portuguese. Meetings are conducted in Portuguese, much more than English. Although in business, everyone is expected to understand and speak English, the business is usually conducted in the local language.

Some international students see getting an MBA in Brazil as a way to break into the Brazilian economy. Is this valid?

Yes, I would say so. Certainly the person in this country is going to learn a lot about Brazil, and the experience is going to help him in perhaps getting a job in a global company. But global companies today – they’re just that – the president of Alcoa Worldwide is, or was, Brazilian. The president of Bank Boston was Brazilian. The presidents of many US companies are Brazilians. And I suspect that there are also many of the presidents of these companies that are, what? French, German, whatever. Companies today want the best talent they can get, and they expect their top talent to be multilingual, and to be able to function in the global environment.

What I do know is that there has always been in Brazil a watermark between those who have international experience and those who don’t. And I suppose that’s true of most places. People who have experience here in their own countries can have better facilities. There are, of course restrictions, in terms of working here – there are visa problems like you have in most countries, but in general there is more flexible than in the USA or Europe. Officially one needs a student, work or permanent visa to be able to stay for a long period of time. In practice, there are legal ways of dealing with the rules.

Photo Courtesy: Marc Burbridge

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