15 Nov 2016
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Classroom Lessons Put Into Practice Abroad

Re: Rita Rebelo de Sousa (AMP 182); Henry McGee

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HBS students worked on their project with representatives of the bakery chain Benjamin in São Paulo. (photo by Cintia Farago)

In the United States, brand loyalty is often a powerful motivator—consumers will drive miles in search of a Starbucks. But as a team of first-year HBS MBA students discovered while doing fieldwork in São Paulo, Brazil, in some countries, proximity to one’s neighborhood can be a more influential factor when deciding where to shop.

During FIELD 2, part of the Required Curriculum course Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD), 936 MBA students gained hands-on, global experience in January 2016 by collaborating for eight days on projects with businesses in 15 emerging markets and in Boston. The immersion in São Paulo was organized by HBS’s Global Experience Office and by the Latin America Research Center—São Paulo. Senior Lecturer Henry W. McGee (MBA 1979) supervised the 12 teams deployed in the city, one of which worked with the local 13-store bakery chain, Benjamin.

In the fall, the members of this team—Adam Demuyakor, Adam Gunter, Felix Jiang, Sasha Niemeyer, Sinem Ormeci, and Megan Wu, all Class of 2017—participated in exercises to hone their leadership, teamwork, and design thinking skills to prepare for their Brazil immersion. The process informed the goal: to help their partner company attract more young families to the bakery chain and scale the business.

“In Boston we thought we had the solution: We would go to São Paulo and implement our idea for a kids’ menu,” says Jiang. “But we discovered that the consumer preferences and concepts of a bakery were completely different in Brazil. It challenged us to understand the customers’ mind-sets,” explains Ormeci. Team members conducted extensive interviews with residents of São Paulo neighborhoods and discovered that proximity was the key ingredient for shoppers. “They would go to the bakery that is right next to their apartment because they just wanted convenience,” observes Ormeci.

The students soon realized that food trucks would be the solution to making the bakery accessible to new audiences, adapting company goals to accommodate consumer behavior. They outfitted a test truck and spread the word about its location via social media. The idea was enthusiastically embraced by customers and by Rita de Sousa Coutinho (AMP 182, 2012), an owner of the chain and its CEO. Currently two trucks are in operation.

The students brought their individual strengths to the project as each took turns in leadership roles. The team experience also gave them the opportunity to work on skills they wanted to improve. “When you are in an HBS classroom you learn a great deal, but you are not in pressure-test situations that really challenge you as a person and that put into practice everything you’re reading and discussing,” says Niemeyer. “I think FIELD 2 did that effectively.”

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