The MBA internship is a time for learning new things and exploring outside of your comfort zone…and for some Booth students that means gaining international work experience. Brenda Desino used her summer internship to work in a country she had never even visited. Below she tells TBE about living and working in Brazil for the first time.
Where are you working this summer? What’s your title? What are your responsibilities?
I am a summer associate at AGV Logística SA, a portfolio company of Tarpon Investimentos. Tarpon is a Brazilian private equity firm and AGV is a leading Brazilian third-party logistics company. In November of 2011, Tarpon acquired 51% of AGV and placed me there for the summer to work on a strategic planning project about re-shaping AGV for the next three years. Tarpon is an active manager within their portfolio companies and typically places employees and interns within their portfolio companies to work on long-term growth initiatives.
My responsibilities include developing the structure of the project, conducting benchmark research, planning and executing a week long road trip to the US to visit industry analysts and C-level executives at North American logistics firms, planning two workshops to involve employees in the transformational process of the company, and writing a feasibility summary for a potential new division for the company.
Have you ever been to Brazil before? Why did you decide to intern there?
Never! Brazil was on my list of places to go but I have never been there or anywhere in South America before.
I really wanted to do something different for my internship. I wanted to feel excited and inspired by my summer experience. I wanted to have the ability to truly make an impact in a company. I wanted to feel like I was learning something I could not get anywhere else. Tarpon, AGV, and Brazil gave me all of these things. I worked in logistics prior to coming to business school and I plan to change careers and industries post-MBA. I took this internship despite the fact that it was with a logistics company because it offered me the opportunity to get first-hand exposure to an emerging market, interact daily with a successful private equity and asset management firm, and truly be involved in developing strategy for an organization in a time of complete change.
What have you enjoyed most about working internationally? What new skills has this experience helped you develop?
Understanding and experiencing a new culture has been the best part of working internationally. Learning the culture goes beyond the four walls of the office and impacts me every day. Brazil is amazing and learning about the people, history, and economy by being there is something I will always remember.
Also the ability to see how Tarpon is involved within their portfolio companies, specifically AGV, has been an invaluable experience and something I truly believe in. It has been amazing to gain first-hand experience from Tarpon and AGV and be involved in how they truly collaborate with each other, have healthy debate about major decisions, generate ideas for the future, and construct creative strategies together.
I have learned many new skills and have been pulled from my comfort zone on a daily basis. Prior to this experience I thought I understood the importance of flexibility; however, it has reached a new level! Each day, both professionally and personally, the importance of being flexible was a major part of my experience.
How has it been working somewhere where they speak a different language? Have you picked up any Portuguese?
Challenging and fun! When I landed in São Paulo I knew three words of Portuguese (hi, bye, thanks…oi, tchau, obrigada). I tried to set up lessons when I arrived; however, my work schedule is quite demanding and I also work one hour outside of São Paulo. Therefore, between the commute and long hours I was not able to find a teacher to help me learn Portuguese. I learned by stumbling through every day and never being afraid to try no matter how far off I knew I was. People are so kind and want to help you learn.
At times it was physically exhausting. I would sit in four-hour meetings and understand 10% of what was said. My mind would be racing and concentrating so hard to get little bits and pieces. The people I work closely with speak English, help me every day, and make sure I do not miss anything important. Plus, for me I still participate in the meetings. I might not know what is going on but if I think I have something valuable to contribute I interject in English. Sometimes I am on topic and other times I am not. People are wonderful about it and value what I have to say even though the circumstances are quite challenging.
Considering I have only been able to learn through listening and having conversations with people, I have come quite a long way! I can get by at restaurants, greet people, and have small conversations. My grammar, verb tense, and vocabulary are horrible but I love to try and learn more every day. I look forward to continuing to enhance my Portuguese throughout my second year.
How do you think Booth helped you secure this internship?
The alumni network at Booth has been instrumental in me landing this internship. One of the managing partners at Tarpon is a Booth alum and very active on campus. Also, the new CFO of AGV (a former investment office at Tarpon) is also a Booth alum. It is wonderful to talk to both of them and see how their experience at Booth has impacted their careers. Also, three of the four interns at Tarpon (and their portfolio companies) are from Booth!
Sounds like you are working a lot…have you had time to explore?
From a personal aspect, the travel has been amazing. São Paulo is a gigantic city and I have been able to be a tourist, see the sights and experience the every day life in the city…from the nightlife to the horrendous traffic. I have also spent some weekends traveling. I have been able to visit Rio de Janeiro, Paraty, Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, and the Brazilian countryside. Each place has been fantastic in its own way and I only wish I had more time here to continue exploring and meeting phenomenal people.