When Vernon H.C. Wright, B.S. '69, established the Wright Business Global Scholars Endowment, he did so to help Merrick School of Business students develop their skills and broaden their world view and proficiency in matters of international business. The Wright Scholars funding helped many of our students travel to Peru last January and to Brazil in March to learn more about the cultures, economy and industries of these South American countries.
Dennis Pitta, professor of marketing, headed south for the winter with 19 graduate students to Lima, Peru. The course included visits to several outstanding companies. Their first stop was at Corporacion Lindley, a Peruvian soft drink producer with enough resilience to fend off competition by Coca-Cola. In the end, Coke could not beat them -- so it bought a large stake in the company. Today, the partnership generates significant income using a targeted strategy, customized for Peru's major geographic regions. They were briefed by the marketing staff and sampled some of the company's products, including its golden Inka Kola.
Also in Lima, the UB group focused on companies like Cemex, the Mexico-based cement maker whose business has grown steadily through the introduction of high-quality products that save customers time and money. Another company of interest was Rio Tinto, whose mining operations are complex and subject to considerable regulations. Learning how Rio Tinto meets its regulatory and competitive challenges was very interesting to the class.
Perhaps the most fascinating company they visited was Peruplast. They manufacture printable plastic bags from basic ingredients. Peruvian businesses use plastic for many food products, in place of materials like metal cans or glass jars. The market for this packaging is robust. Peruplast developed a material that can be printed with multiple colors in high resolution. Moreover, its design keeps food fresh much longer than that of previous bags. The company refocused its strategy to capitalize on its most successful products, and in doing so enjoys less competition and higher levels of profitability. The CEO, Carlos Bragagnini, shared the company's five-year strategy, its goals and its performance.
Peruplast is a success by any standard, but what struck the students most was how well the company prepared for UB’s visit. Peruplast polo shirts for each of the students appeared at their hotel the day before the factory visit, and they were encouraged to wear them on that day. Then, 12 of the company's executives took small groups on a factory tour,conducted in English, and they not only showed their operations but also answered any and all questions about production and marketing. The students were so impressed that each one wrote a letter of thanks, highlighting their impressions of the company.
The second part of the course took place in Cusco, a city with an elevation of 11,150 feet above sea level, where he group visited two non-profit organizations. One, the Center for Traditional Textiles, was established in 1996 as a Special Project of Cultural Survival. The mission was to aid in the preservation and revival of Peruvian Inca textiles. In the 1990s, there was an alarming development: the weaving skills and 2,000-year-old textile traditions of Peru were in danger of disappearing. UB’s visit focused on the complex and labor-intensive art of preparing Alpaca wool for weaving, including creating, dying and drying threads, and creating intricate Andean designs. The center director introduced a score of weavers and their work. The class was so impressed that they made a monetary donation, which the director accepted graciously.
Since tourism is a major Peruvian industry, the UBers also visited the strategic planning center for that activity. The World Heritage Site, Machu Picchu, is located 70 miles northwest of Cusco, and Peruvian authorities have unveiled a plan for its preservation and improved access to it as well as to nearby sites. The class ended with a trip to Machu Picchu and a tour of the 15 square miles of the ancient city.
While Peru was phenomenal, the spring break global field study to Brazil was also an experience for the record books. The course, lead by Darlene Smith, dean and professor of marketing, started in the city of São Paulo and ended in Rio de Janeiro.
The first stop was to the Brazilian location of the American manufacturer, Stanley Black & Decker. There the group learned how the company had established itself and then left due to political unrest in the early 1980s. Now since their return, they have focused on reestablishing their brand and recapturing the market with notable success. The group also visited the country’s stock exchange, BM&F BOVESPA and Kirwin Brewery. But the most talked about visit in São Paulo was to a nonprofit organization named Instituto Baccarelli. This organization provides artistic education for 1,200 children from the impoverished community of Heliopolis, and offers personal and professional development for all. It has first-class facilities and professors, and, at the moment, four orchestras, 19 choruses and five chamber groups. It was here that the UB students were so moved by the children and their stories that they donated enough funds to allow the institute to purchase a new musical instrument.
The last visit in São Paulo was to Natura, a manufacturer of cosmetics and personal hygiene products made from raw materials from the Amazon and sold through direct sales. The Natura complex reflects their socially and environmentally responsible mission and focus on sustainability.
The next part of the group’s journey was to the home of the country’s most iconic beach and the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro. In fact, the first stop in the city was to Ernst & Young, one of the largest professional service companies, one of the "Big Four" accounting firms, and the official consulting provider for the Rio Games for planning, management, financial administration, IT, sustainability, and other major deliverables. There they met with Eduardo Mack, director of communications, and Richard Evans, program director of Rio 2016.
The students heard an overview of the current state of the Brazilian economy and many details on what is has taken thus far to build the infrastructure for the 2016 Summer Olympic competition. One of the most fascinating aspects is how the country’s labor laws work. Rigidity of the labor laws was put in place to prevent employee abuse, but these rules make it difficult for employers to be nimble and entrepreneurial. Basically, local officials told the UB group, reforms are needed because these laws do not work well in today’s Brazilian business climate.
The group also visited a Rio based international innovative media company called NBS. There they heard from the partners about their philosophy and discussed case studies including Oi, a telecommunication firm and its rapid acceleration into a dominant market player.
The group finished the trip with a visit to the U.S. Consulate and to famous tourist attractions including Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer—the 98-foot tall art deco statue that overlooks the city. It was, they said, a memorable way to end the perfect global field study—and all thanks to the generosity and foresight of Vernon Wright.