2016 MBAs To Watch: Rodrigo Aquino, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

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Rodrigo Aquino

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

Age: 33

Hometown: Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Undergraduate School and Degree: Faculdade de Direito Milton Campos – Bachelor of Law (Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil)

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? MGPartners – M&A Advisory; Founder and M&A Advisor (Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2015? Deloitte Consulting LLP, Strategy & Operations; Atlanta office

Where will you be working after graduation? Bain & Company, Consultant; Dallas office

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Dean’s Fellows Program – Honor reserved for selected fellowship recipients (10% of the class)
  • Dean’s Fellows Student Committee – Founder and President 2015-2016
  • STAR Fellow – student internship position reserved for top three performers in 2014-15 Student Teams Achieving Results (STAR) Program
  • Research Assistant – student internship position; staffed on a strategic planning project which will impact one of the most important colleges in the university
  • Consulting Club – VP for International Experience
  • Nonprofit Board Fellow – Non-voting Board Member at the Community Music School of Raleigh, N.C. (October 2015 to March 2016)
  • Selected MBA to speak, representing the full-time MBA Program, in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Donors and Scholars Annual Celebration (2015)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Starting the Dean’s Fellows Student Committee, a student-led group created to nurture an engaged community of leaders committed to UNC Kenan-Flagler and each other.

Every year, roughly 10% of the class is selected to be part of the Dean’s Fellows Program (a leadership experience that lasts the two years of your MBA). Although the program was already very well-structured and successful, I envisioned the students playing a bigger role in how to shape the program moving forward. My hypothesis was that if we had a student-led group bringing ideas and helping management in the execution of those ideas, we could create a strong community around the Dean’s Fellows Program and, from that, we could foster even more engagement and gratitude from participants.

Since September 2015, I’ve been leading a team of four Dean’s Fellows and partnering with key stakeholders in management, including the program director, to deliver significant results. The hypothesis has been proven right. We were not only able to make the committee a reality, but also we could implement several ideas, such as creating a Dean’s Fellows webpage, starting the Fellows Dinners series (periodic dinners among small groups of Dean’s Fellows from the first- and second-year students), and having second-year advisory on Dean’s Fellows Projects led by first-year students (six to eight student-led projects per year focused on improving the school).

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The first time I led a team in an M&A deal. Our company was representing the Sell Side — a mid-sized HVAC family business with 1,000+ employees and around $50 million in annual revenue — and the Buy Side was no less than the French energy conglomerate GDF Suez. The deal took 18 months to close, during which I could experience: (a) leading a team of five advisers; (b) directly managing the client relationship (three owners with 30-plus years in the business); (c) negotiating with high-ranked French executives (i.e., senior vice president for overseas business development — GDF Suez); and (d) being recognized as fundamental for the deal to come through by both sides (the CEO of my client wrote my letters of recommendation when I was applying to business school).

Who is your favorite professor? Paul Friga. He is responsible for our action learning course (STAR – Student Teams Achieving Results), which takes place during Mods III and IV of our first year. Throughout the project, which was designed to simulate a consulting engagement, he lectured on several topics, from how to use the hypotheses-driven approach to tactics to inspire your team and manage the client relationship. The way he connects theory and practice is truly phenomenal. And the takeaways from that course were extremely helpful in my summer internship at Deloitte. We developed a great relationship through the course, resulting in Dr. Friga inviting me, first, to be a STAR Fellow (student internship position reserved to the top three performers in the course); and, a few months later, to work with him as a research assistant in a strategic planning project for one of the most important colleges within the UNC system.

Favorite MBA Courses? STAR, Accounting, Consulting Skills and Frameworks, and Private Equity

Why did you choose this business school? Cultural fit and the certainty that the school would give us (my wife and I were applying together and we are both in the MBA Class of 2016 at UNC Kenan-Flagler) all the resources we needed to succeed in our MBA goals.

What did you enjoy most about business school? Building meaningful relationships with colleagues, staff, and faculty, while studying interesting topics and working in rewarding projects with very smart people from all over the world.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? It was the understanding of how much you can develop yourself, as a professional and as a person, while you’re helping others and giving back to the community.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? The number of things I’ve learned outside of class. I was expecting academic excellence — and I got that. However, the extracurricular part of the MBA brought me an impressively large amount of personal and professional development.

What was the hardest part of business school? It was switching from investment banking to management consulting. I had worked as an M&A adviser and I loved it. I came to the MBA with a plan to become an investment banker. Once I hit campus, talking to second-year students, alumni, and recruiters, it struck me that everything I was passionate about in my previous job as M&A adviser had to do with consulting — solving complex problems, working in teams, relating with clients, and having exposure to a variety of industries, among other things. On the flip side of that, a few things I did not like in banking were not there in consulting at all. Even though I didn’t take long to realize that consulting would be a better fit (only two months after the MBA had started), giving up on my well-set plan and on all the advantages I had in recruiting due to having prior M&A experience ended up being very tough.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your school? Engage in extracurricular activities, help people, give back, and pay it forward as much as you can while you’re at school. UNC Kenan-Flagler will give you all the resources you need to be successful academically and professionally. You should definitely take advantage of that to the full, but do go beyond and be a part of the community. Lead and enjoy being led by amazing people in team efforts. You’ll be surprised by how much you’ll take out of it.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when… I came to realize that an MBA in a top business school could give me not only the skills and opportunities to improve myself, but also the global mindset I believe is necessary to becoming a truly influential leader in the 21st century.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be… much less capable of making a positive impact in the world.”

Which executive or entrepreneur do you most admire? Steve Jobs, after he came back to Apple in 1997. I know this answer might come across as cliché, but I wanted to emphasize why I do admire him so much. He was able to adapt and reinvent himself after all the success he had had before. Not only that, he did so without losing his uniqueness. He became someone else — someone who was much better in delivering results — without changing who he really was or the core of what he believed in. I admire him the most because of that journey and, of course, everything he was able to accomplish at Apple, from the turnaround in the late ’90s to making Apple the most valuable company in the world right before his death in 2011.

What are your long-term professional goals? I still remember how I felt when I first saw an email signature from a Bain recruiter that said, “World-Changers Wanted.” I want to do just that: be an influential leader at Bain & Company, capable of changing the world through the work we do.

I truly see myself at Bain all the way up to partner level. And I do believe it is possible to make a positive impact in the world through creating value to our clients by solving some of their most complex problems.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My wife. I’d never be half the person I am without her. She brought me a peace I did not know could exist. On top of that, she amplifies whatever talents I may have on a daily basis by teaching me things I do not know, giving me sincere and constructive feedback even when I don’t ask for it, and challenging me to be better every time I look at her and think how awesome she is.

Fun fact about yourself: After law school, I decided to pursue my passion for music, and I was a professional artist (composer/musician/singer) for three years, having recorded two CDs and hit more than 250,000 views on YouTube.

Favorite book: Meditations (Marcus Aurelius)

Favorite movie: Life Is Beautiful (Roberto Benigni and Vincenzo Cerami) 

Favorite musical performer: Paul McCartney

Favorite television show: “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”

Favorite vacation spot: Rome, Italy

Hobbies? Cooking for friends, running, reading, and watching Carolina basketball

What made Rodrigo such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?

“On day one of orientation when I present fun facts about the new students, we learned about how unique Rodrigo is and knew he would emerge as a leader. When I announced that Rodrigo had been a professional singer in Brazil, I put him on the spot and asked if he would be willing to show off his talent. He immediately stepped up to perform a cappella for his new community!

“Academically, Rodrigo has distinguished himself in different areas, including his performance in STAR, an action-learning course in the format of a consulting project, with students solving real problems for real clients. He delivered such extraordinary results that his professor invited him to become a STAR Fellow as a second-year student, a position reserved for the top three STAR MBA students.

“Rodrigo has devoted himself to being a core part of the community and to making a difference. He has exemplified leadership, excellence, and genuine care to everyone who comes in contact with him. He is a servant to others first, and that makes him a truly inspirational leader who perfectly embodies the values of UNC Kenan-Flagler. Possessed with many talents and great drive, he has made a substantial positive impact in the program.

“As vice president for international experience for the Consulting Club, Rodrigo took his role to a new level. During his second year, he helped more than 40 international students pursuing a consulting career. He hosted group sessions to orient first-year students on topics ranging from branding themselves and networking to excelling in case interviews. Rodrigo also has hosted one-on-one sessions in which he gives individual guidance to these students. He would talk to students for eight hours straight, in 15 minutes-per-student sessions, on a Sunday. He did this four times!

“Regarding the impact, I’d like to let the testimonials from two students speak for themselves:

“The time he took out for 1:1 sessions discussing some of the cultural and philosophical subjects opened up my mind to a lot of new things. I learnt to embrace change and be less rigid. The biggest learning I took from the last year was: ‘Change your opinions, keep to your principles’.” Gursheen Kaur, Class of 2017

“Through the course of my time here, rarely have I been more thankful to anyone. His feedback and advice have helped me keep my chin up and do my best in all circumstances. I now find it in me to want to ‘pay it forward’ as he had always asked for.” Prerana Manvi, Class of 2017

“What else is left to say? Rodrigo is phenomenal.”

Sridhar Balasubramanian (Dr. B)

Associate Dean of the MBA Program

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School



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