Spotlight on Brazil at New York City Conference

Doing business in Brazil offers a rocky road, but with dazzling promise 

Spotlight on Brazil at New York City Conference

The fifth-largest country in the world by population and area, and the sixth-largest world economy by GDP, Brazil is an emerging-market force, with both amazing potential and daunting challenges. About 100 thought leaders from business, academia, and the public sector convened to discuss both, at “Brazil: A pathway into the future,” a conference on September 20, 2012, at the Cornell Club in New York City. The event, a joint venture between the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management’s Emerging Markets Institute and Saõ Paulo-based think tank Better Brazil, brought together speakers and attendees from inside and outside Brazil to take a cold, hard look at doing business in the country.

Although plenty of hard facts were presented, and attendees pulled no punches in discussing the good, the bad and the ugly of Brazil’s economy, people, business, and government, the spirit of the conference was far from cold. Most agreed that serious challenges, such as low levels of education and infrastructure, can make doing business in Brazil downright frustrating. Yet it seems impossible to talk about this country without warmth, enthusiasm, and passion. Indeed, the mood of the conference was buoyed by the unsinkable Brazilian optimism crystallized by speaker Frederic Larmuseau, SVP of North America and former general manager of Brazil for Reckitt Benckiser: “Tomorrow will be better than yesterday.”

Instead of being exhausted at the end of nine intense, information-packed hours of presentation and discussion, conference attendees were energized – armed with new knowledge of the impending challenges, and ready to tackle them head on. The entire hall seemed to have been suffused with the warm, sunny, can-do smiles of the Brazilians.

And that was before a single cocktail had been served.

“Seeing how outside investors see Brazil and its challenges was very valuable and interesting,” said Alice Martin MBA ‘13, a Brazilian national. “I’m used to seeing it from the inside. I always felt that my country was growing so much and presents so much opportunity; but, today, I saw that it can be challenging for an international company to start a company in Brazil and actually succeed, because of the cultural differences.”

“We know that Brazil still faces many problems, but what we see at the end of the day is the major opportunity to grow, for different kinds of businesses to develop,” said Marcus de Freitas of Better Brazil, one of the conference co-organizers. “And we are excited to see Cornell addressing the emerging economy of Brazil.”

Organizers, speakers, and attendees alike were impressed by the quality of information presented and discussed. “Being able to be here, and to see the high quality of speakers, is incredible,” said José de Sá, MBA ’94, a Rio de Janeiro-based partner with Bain & Co., who flew into New York for a few hours to speak on a panel. “I’m passionate about everything Cornell, and so it’s great to be back,” he added.

Choosing New York City as the meeting’s location allowed for the highest caliber of speakers and attendees. The breadth and depth of the Johnson and Cornell networks allowed the co-organizers to bring in top economists from multinational bank powerhouses such as Citi, Goldman Sachs and BNY Mellon, as well as heavy hitters from a wide range of businesses and nongovernmental organizations, and keynote speakers David Neeleman, founder of Jetblue Airlines, and Humberto Luiz Ribeiro, secretary of commerce for the Brazilian national government.

 “I think the conference was great, and I enjoyed all the sessions,” said speaker Fabio Niccheri, a partner with PriceWaterhouseCoopers. He was impressed with the transparency of the information presented and the candor of the discussion, citing Ribeiro in particular. “I heard that the government is concerned and working on solving these very important issues that we have – not just saying how great we are and naming great things we have done, but rather recognizing that we have certain issues that we are trying to address that depend on several factors, and acknowledging that some of them are just not very easy to do.”

“I was very positively surprised with the conference, and with the number of important Brazilians here,” said Larmuseau of Reckitt Benckiser. “And not only will this meeting help students to have a better view of Brazil, but the Brazilians who are here, I think, will go back to Brazil with even more enthusiasm to say, ‘Look, we have to change things’ – it’s a wonderful country, but a lot has to change to make business a bit easier.”

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