Latin American B-Schools: Muy Caliente

Latin American B-schools - Muy Caliente

Business schools are devoting increasing time to helping students understand the opportunities and challenges inherent in the emerging markets of Asia and, in particular, the economic powerhouse of China. But what of other rising economies, such as those of Latin America? Goldman Sachs identified Brazil as a “one to watch” as long ago as 2003, and the past 10 years of economic growth has seen it rise to become the world’s sixth-biggest economy, while Argentina, Chile, and Peru have bounced back from debt default and hyperinflation to now post GDP growth that is the envy of North America and Europe.

Despite its proximity to the U.S., however, Latin America is potentially as much of a mystery—and consequently a potential commercial graveyard for the unwary—as any country in the Asia-Pacific region. Take the fact that entrepreneurship has only recently been accepted into the economic mainstream in such nations as Brazil where, just a decade ago, business people were depicted as villains rather than heroes in TV programs. Or an approach to sustainability seen in Mexico City where the authorities decided the best way to make their taxi cabs more “green” would be—yes, you guessed it—to paint them green.

And woe betide those who underestimate the region’s technical expertise and industrial prowess. From flex-fuel cars to aerospace and the globally competitive agribusiness and commodities sector, foreign investors have much to learn about the creative and adaptable approach to business from their neighbors to the south. So where is the best place to find out what you really need to know about this often neglected region?

Historically, if you wanted to rub shoulders and learn from the brightest and best in Latin American business, you would most likely choose a business school almost anywhere other than in Latin America itself. Ambitious managers and professionals from the region tended to head to U.S. schools or to the Spanish-speaking schools of Europe. Alternatively, a handful of Western schools, such as Thunderbird, IESE and ESADE, have established a campus presence to train the next generation of business leaders. But in recent years local institutions have been fighting back, in particular by forging alliances with major business schools.

The Brazilian business school, Fundaçao Getulio Vargas (FGV), for example, has recently launched a three-cornered program in conjunction with Spain’s ESADE and Georgetown in the U.S. aimed at executives working for U.S. and European multinationals with interests in Latin America. FGV is also a partner in the One MBA executive MBA program, which encompasses another top regional school, EGADE in Mexico, as well as UNC’s Kenan-Flagler in the U.S., the Rotterdam School of Management in Europe, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Also, the IAE Business School in Argentina runs joint executive programs with Harvard and IESE. The result of such initiatives seems to be an increasingly thriving business education community in Latin America itself.

“In the past a lot of potential students would see somewhere like the U.S. as the natural place to take a full-time program,” says Marina Heck, academic director of the OneMBA at FGV. “But now a lot of them are appreciating the increased benefits of staying in Brazil. We are also seeing more students coming from abroad than ever before. They’re looking for adventure and opportunity in Brazil, with an eye to the future and what Brazil can become.”

If there’s one certainty in the uncertain world of the next few years, it’s that economic opportunities will continue to drift not only eastwards, but also south. And it looks ever more likely that the best opportunities in business education will follow them from their traditional home in the developed economies of the west.

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