How skills that I thought I would never use became essential during my internship

by Claudio V. C. Macedo, MBA ‘16

Claudio V. C. Macedo, MBA ‘16

Have you ever had the feeling that you are studying something that you will never need to use? After working for seven years in real estate in Brazil and transitioning to a summer internship in the petrochemical industry in Houston, I realized the importance of all types of learning.

Prior to Johnson, I worked in a Brazilian multinationalcompany named Odebrecht for almost seven years. I was fascinated by its corporateculture so I decided that Odebrecht was where I would pursue a career with thegoal of becoming the CEO of one of the company’s branches. Therefore, I appliedfor a summer internship in one of the group’s branches, Braskem, and received anoffer.

Braskem is the biggest polypropylene producer in the world aswell as one of the biggest producers of polyethylene, representing more thehalf the value of the Odebrecht group. The company is well known for itsinnovative culture and concern for the environment. Its strategies forsustainability and profitability are strongly correlated. The history of the organizationillustrates its leadership in the environmental movement in Brazil through itsnumerous awards, green patents, and nominations. All these attributes attracted me to Braskemand made me decide that this should be the next step in my life in order tokeep growing and learning within the Odebrecht group.

My application process was completely off campus and aftertwo interviews, one by phone and one in-person in Sao Paulo, I received anoffer to join the International Feedstock Team at the Houston office. Iaccepted it and followed up with a meeting to become acquainted with my newboss in Houston. I was surprised to discover that the Houston-based team would consistof only my boss and me, with the other members being based in Rotterdam and SaoPaulo. It seemed like a great opportunity to get a global view of the operationin a small and very efficient team.

The International Feedstock Team’s main goal is to supplyour plants in Brazil with products, such as Naphtha, Ethane, and Propane, frominternational suppliers all over the world. This was facilitated by eitherlong-term contracts or spot cargos, with the expectation that all the logisticscosts should be equalized on the deals. My initial goal on the team was to findways to help them make deals and trading decisions more structured and accurate,as well as to find an optimal solution to measure the team’s efficiency byproposing new Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to compare our results with themarket.

And here is where the title for this story comes in. Duringhigh school, I would frequently complain that I would never need to usechemistry in my life and there was therefore no sense in studying it. Duringcollege, post-graduation courses, and the MBA, I complained that I would neverneed to run a regression and that I was wasting my time on it as well in someother courses. Well…. life is full of surprises.

For the first weeks at the internship I worked very hard ingathering information about how these professionals make their decisions, aswell as what matters to them during the decision process, and how those marketswork. I had never worked in petrochemicals before as my whole career had been inreal estate and construction; therefore, all the technical aspects of theindustry and the mechanics of the market were completely new to me, forcing meto understand basic chemistry, the very thing I had never imagined using.

By the seventh week I finalized and presented a new model tothe directors and traders to help them compare different proposals withcompletely different basis and qualities of products. This new tool unified withinthe same model the market information in real time and the efficiency data fromBraskem plants for each kind of Naphtha, allowing them to make decisions byadjusting the price of the Naphtha to a profitability index which was relatedto the relative quality of the product in each plant. And guess how I got theresults? Among other things, by running lots of regressions that could help mepredict forecasted curves for some of the products. Yes… Data Analytics can bevery useful and the book might help you with more stuff than the Z and T tables.

A few days after my presentation, I was offered theopportunity to participate in a new project which consisted of defining andstructuring a new operational method for Braskem purchases within the US inorder to increase flexibility and decrease costs, thereby making American feedstockprices more competitive globally. This is the kind of project that reallyexcites me, one in which I can use both the skills that I gained during myfirst year at Johnson and the knowledge I acquired from my Sustainable GlobalEnterprise (SGE) Immersion project in order to create this new business with abroader perspective and to tackle the project with a structured consultingperspective.

I hope to join the company after graduation to see theimplementation of this amazing project and with any luck it will push me to useall the skills that I learned at school both the ones that I knew I would useand the ones I though I wouldn’t. Once again life proves to me that you cannever have too much knowledge.