In his book “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg talks about the need alter the cue->routine->reward loop and replace with good ones if you want to break a bad habit. I guess in my case a week-long trip to Brazil did quite the opposite. From ten posts a month, my blogging went downhill to zero for the rest of September. Here’s an attempt at bringing it back to its equilibrium cadence, whatever that turns out to be.
Thanks to the incredible amount of hard work and planning by folks like Emily, Jared, Robbe and Brian along with Juana and the assistance of others like Ashmi, Aleyda, Tosh and Andrey, we had an amazing trip to Brazil. It would be impossible to write about it all in one post, or read it all in one sitting, but we shall both try our best, shall we? It might end up as a multi-part series of a meandering stream of consciousness – which should give you a real taste of how the trip was, especially for my classmates that discovered caipirinhas and caipiroskas there and never had to search for other liquids to quench their thirst.
Lets start with the easy part – the mechanics of it all. The official travel dates were Sept 8-15 but many classmates found time either to travel early to Peru, Chile or Manaus, or stay later to visit the same destinations or see Iguazu. We flew into Sao Paulo, spent three days there and then went to Rio de Janeiro where we spent the rest of the week. The trip itself was supposed to be the culmination of a competitive and global strategy course we did in Term 4, where we were to apply principles learnt to analyze the performance of different companies in Brazil. Towards that end, the student organizers in the class mentioned earlier reached out to various companies in Sao Paulo and Rio and arranged company visits for us. We had a good breadth of industries and company sizes in the mix of visits – McKinsey, TNS, Johnson&Johnson, Itau, General Atlantic, Gol, Natura, Carlyle, Predicta, Azul Airlines, Google, Intel, Qualcomm, Cisco, BG, British American Tobacco, BNDES and Petrobras. We also had a talk by some of the Olympic organizing committee folks in Rio and a port visit to show us the progress they are making as a city towards hosting the Olympics. We ended the week with an interesting entrepreurship panel with representatives from an incubator, law firm, VC firm and an entrepreneur in Rio.
McKinsey and TNS presentations were meant to prepare us for the week by giving us an quick tour through the current economic and socio-political situation in Brazil so we would appreciate the week better. Two things from those presentations we had already learnt on the way to the hotel – that you don’t get that many reais for a dollar, and that every auto manufacturer in the world seemed to have showrooms in Sao Paulo with the cab drivers taking a special affinity to Chevys. Alexandre Momma of TNS brought this together in a wonderful anecdote that highlighted another issue with Brazil as well – that of custo Brazil – through a Forbes article on the ridiculous $80,00 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The theme of custo Brazil resonated through several presentations during the week – that of having to hire an army of tax people to understand the nuances of municipal, state, interstate and federal taxes in addition to the maze of value added taxes. President Dilma Rousseff had promised earlier in the year to cut payroll taxes in several industries to stimulate growth by limiting supply side taxes. Last month, the finance minister announced tax breaks on capital goods acquisition for several industries close on the heels of Uncle Ben’s stimulus package in the US. The hope is that this would help Brazil recover from the stagnation in its economy since 2011 like its sister economies in the BRIC.
Despite this, national pride ran high in many presentations – for the incredible growth the country has seen in the past several decades, especially since the hyper-inflationary years until the mid-90s. One common quote in these presentations was that “Brazil is part of BRIC, but Brazil is not BRIC”, stating that the growth and the challenges Brazil faces are unique to it and not generalizable to the other BRIC countries. It was also pretty fascinating to see one of the presenters (Phillip Klien of Predicta) actually use the Gini Index in his presentation and state how he was not happy that currently Brazil was more unequal than the US but that was projected to overtake the US in a few years as a more equal society. I would be really surprised to hear the CEO of an American firm use the Gini Index in his company pitch.
That’s as much as time permits for now – stay tuned for more!