By Suraj Sridhar, MBA2024
The experiential learning opportunities offered by the LBS MBA are without doubt among its most distinguishable aspects. Whether it is London CAP or a pro-bono consulting project with the Impact Consulting Club, I have really enjoyed applying classroom learnings in the real world and have felt noticeable personal growth in the process. The Global Experience programme, a week-long business immersion in a country of your choice, is arguably the flagship experiential offering of the MBA. In October this year, I spent a week in Sao Paulo, Brazil with roughly 50 of my classmates and it was one of the highlights of my time at LBS – here’s why!
A first in life
I knew very little about South America before my MBA. I had never visited the continent and my world view of it was driven, in large part, by sporadic conversations with classmates on their experiences of living and working in countries such as Chile and Peru. The Global Experience changed that for me. In visiting Sao Paulo, I gained exposure to the business heartbeat and most economically productive region of Brazil, the most populous country in South America. More importantly however, I got a feel for a different way of life underpinned by positivity, warmth, and resilience. I felt this consistently through almost all my interactions with the Paulistanos, and their desire to enjoy life particularly inspired me.
Learnings in entrepreneurship
Sao Paulo has a burgeoning start-up ecosystem built on strong entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to find disruptive solutions to the city’s pressing challenges. This was on full display during our visit to Cubo, an innovation hub that not only provides a vibrant co-working space for start-ups but also facilitates idea sharing among founders. Sustainability emerged as a central topic during entrepreneur presentations, very much in keeping with the Global Experience’s overall theme of ‘triple bottom line: profit, people, and planet’. As a corporate banker pre-MBA, I evaluated prospective clients across several parameters, including their commitment to ESG, but had never fully understood what it took to build a business that placed this at its core. Through the morning at Cubo, as well as a VC panel and a speaker session with Marcelo Abritta (Founder of Buser Brasil), my understanding of entrepreneurship and the venture capital industry increased substantially. That said, I am still a very long way from starting my own business!
Making tangible impact
During the week, the group was divided into small teams to help real Brazilian enterprises solve a key business problem. With Professors, John Mullins and Rupert Merson, on hand to offer guidance when required, each team first took time to understand their respective client’s business model, aspirations, and logistical challenges. This formed the basis of a proposed strategy or solution that was continually refined in collaboration with the enterprise founders. My team supported a fleet insurance provider whose model focused on providing identity verification services to car rental companies to enable the recruiting of safer drivers. Using our problem-solving toolkit, we were able to achieve impact by evaluating our client across three dimensions: a) analysing existing product-market fit, b) identifying pan-industry use cases for the identity verification service, and c) defining the market size for attractive customer sub-segments beyond car rental companies. While most teams initially felt sceptical about delivering value in such a short period, the fact that our final presentations received positive feedback and prompted further discussion made the project fulfilling.
Diving into local culture
Amidst the work, I had enough time to get a taste for Brazilian food and tradition. My favourite experience was the Samba Workshop, hosted by one of the samba schools that will be competing in the Carnival of Brazil in 2024. We were given a tour of the facility and enjoyed a sneak peek into the costumes, props, and sets to be used at the event. The scale and grandeur of it all made me want to come back to Brazil to witness the carnival live. Later in the evening, we stretched ourselves (both literally and metaphorically) while learning the basics of Samba, the renowned Brazilian dance form, and the energy in the room was palpable. It was so nice to see the instructors embody the free spirit of the art form and this allowed me to express myself as much as possible as well. Ultimately, they managed to get a reticent dancer like me to enjoy it and that says it all!
The City Quest on the final day provided a formal opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of Sao Paulo. Places such as Parque Ibirapuera, Liberdade, and Beco do Batman allowed me to appreciate the greenery, murals, and local culture of the city. I also had my fair share of acai bowls and other local dishes while walking around Avenida Paulista, thereby evoking the proper tourist feeling. Finally, I managed to watch Sao Paulo FC and Palmeiras, two of Brazil’s most famous football teams, live in action. The fact that Palmeiras went on to lift the title a few weeks later was clearly all down to me…
Leaving with gratitude
Overall, my week in Sao Paulo was unforgettable. The chances of me visiting Brazil would have been quite low if not for the Global Experience via LBS, and this was a sentiment that was echoed by several others too. I returned to London feeling satisfied, grateful, and eager to visit Brazil again if possible.
It now feels appropriate to sign off with the most used Portuguese word on the trip: ‘Obrigado’ Sao Paulo (‘Thank you’ Sao Paulo)!