Brazilian MBAs Returning Home

When Wharton’s prestigious dual MA/MBA with the Lauder School of International Studies began last April, eight of its 70 students hailed from the country that is fast becoming the darling of the BRICs–Brazil. Add this number to the four non-Brazilians who have chosen the Portuguese language track of the program as a means to working in Brazil, and you come to the surprising total of almost one in every six candidates with ties to the western hemisphere’s second largest economy.

Today, roughly 400 Brazilians are enrolled in the top 20 MBA programs in the U.S. and Europe. That number is increasing due to Brazil’s newfound prominence on the world economic stage. What’s also really changing, as it has for many Chinese and Indian MBA students, is that exploding opportunities in the home country is luring more and more of these international students back home.

Conventional wisdom used to dictate that a Brazilian who came to the U.S. or Europe for an MBA would stay for three to four years to gain valuable work experience before moving back. When Carlos Silva finished his MBA at INSEAD in 2007, he says he had only one goal: “I wanted to continue living and working in Europe, and was happy to accept a job offer in Italy after graduation.”

There’s been a dramatic change in those attitudes after Brazil weathered the global economic crisis and quickly resumed its previous economic growth. No longer are the multinationals, consulting firms or banks interested in keeping hired international students at their U.S. or European headquarters. There’s simply too much work to be done in Brazil where the business opportunities may very well exceed those in more mature markets like the U.S. and Continental Europe.

Silvio Lima worked for the jet manufacturer Embraer before starting at Kellogg, and has accepted a position with a top consulting firm to return home to Brazil. “I did think about staying in the USA,” says Lima, “and I did have a very attractive offer to stay there. The pros of staying in the USA go far beyond the job itself. Staying in the USA is attractive for the things that Brazil is still struggling with. Namely, in the U.S. there are lower levels of violence and access to absolutely everything, even with a middle-class budget. In a nutshell: it’s quality of life.”


So what swayed him back to his home country? The offer that Silvio received to work in São Paulo was 50% higher than his best American offer (despite an exchange rate of 1.6BRL to the dollar). Adds Silvio, “When we shared our offers with the Career Management Center, they had a hard time believing it. Offers have been pretty aggressive and abundant at the same time.”

The outsized offers have also led fellow non-Brazilian MBAs to look at the market. Consider an MBA student from Brazil who just finished his first year at MIT Sloan. He says that some spouses of Brazilian MBAs are spending their two years in Cambridge teaching Portuguese to Sloanies interested in starting up companies to tap into the country’s growing middle class.  Students at other schools known for entrepreneurship report the same thing: “I can’t sit in the cafeteria alone for 5 minutes without someone sitting down with me and pitching their business plan,” jokes one Brazilian who graduated this year from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. He returned to work for an American private equity firm that is expanding its Brazilian operations.

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