Latin Fever Hits Owen

LatinBizChallengeIf you happened to be around Owen this spring, you would have been forgiven for thinking you’d just landed in some exotic Latin American locale.

In late March, accents of Portuguese, Spanish and English breezed through the lobby as teams from top MBA programs around the country vied for top honors in Vanderbilt’s inaugural (and student-initiated) Latin Business Challenge.

A week later, executives from corporate neighbors like Bridgestone, Nissan, and LP assembled at Owen for breakfast to hear from one of Brazil’s most successful investment bankers and former presidential chief economic advisor, Luis Paulo Rosenberg, about the changing economic landscape in Latin America’s largest economy. Rosenberg was featured earlier this year in the New Yorker for leading Brazil’s Corinthians soccer club to a $1 billion-plus valuation, so it was not surprising that the breakfast conversation also touched on the upcoming World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.

Meanwhile, that same afternoon, members of the 40-student cohort from the Americas MBA for Executives program were trickling into town for their April residency. The kick-off session on that Friday evening featured a panel on the World Cup and the Future of Brazil. More than 150 students and faculty from across Vanderbilt packed into the Bridge Building downtown to hear the panel and welcome the Americas MBA students with a Latin-themed mixer. As I told the audience at that event, Owen has Latin Fever!

Vanderbilt has long fostered ties to Latin America, particularly in Brazil. The school’s relationship with the University of Sao Paulo stretches back decades. We also have one of the highest faculty concentrations of Brazil specialists of any U.S. school. And the Center for Latin American Studies oversees the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), which is a bellwether for public opinion on a variety of topics in countries throughout Central and South America.

At Owen, we take a special interest in Latin America because it’s an important market for our recruiting companies. Given the significant trade between North and South, many global firms manage the Americas under one organization. With nearly a billion consumers and over $20 trillion in GDP, the Americas as a whole represent a massive piece of the world economy.

That’s why we organized our most recent Executive MBA program — the Americas MBA for Executives — around the Americas, working with partner schools in Brazil, Mexico, and Canada. Students in the program spend their first year in a traditional executive MBA program at their home schools. Then in their second year, they work as part of a cross-border team on projects that feed into week-long residencies at all four institutions throughout the Americas. The end result: students get to take a deep dive exploring the challenges and opportunities in the regions they’re studying.

Closer to home, our MBA program regularly attracts top talent from countries throughout Latin America and we’re consistently ranked as a top school (globally) by Latin America-focused publications such as America Economia and Expansion. Our current student government president is a fireball of energy and intelligence who originally hails from Colombia. And I was heartened to learn that once members of the Latin Business Association discovered there were no U.S.-based MBA case-competitions focused on the region, they went out and started one! Sponsors like Deloitte and AT&T were eager to pitch in and help.

Among the Owen faculty, finance professor Miguel Palacios has pioneered an investment tool designed to replace student debt. Much of the work he’s done in this area has centered on projects and experiences in Latin American markets. Now, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has incorporated the idea into a student loan reform proposal circulating around Congress. Similarly, Owen professor Bart Victor has served as the driving force behind Project Pyramid — an MBA class and student organization focused on helping improve business models for organizations in the developing world. His work on this and other projects has led to significant time spent in places like Guatemala, Brazil and Chile.

So the next time someone passes you in the Owen lobby and says ¡hola or olà, or even just hello with a Latin twist, let it be a reminder of all the great things we’re involved in with this exciting part of the world.


  • Gaby Rios Plaza

    April 22nd, 2014

    Excellent post Eric! This is a fantastic way to summarize the great events happening on campus about Latin America! Owen is an incredible place to make things happen and the inaugural Latin Business Challenge Case competition is a clear example of that! I am happy to say on behalf of the Latin Business Association and as an international student from Venezuela that our school is very supportive in every possible way to help students achieve ambitious projects.
    Latin America is vibrant, diverse and is a phenomenal region for businesses to operate. The World Bank just released statistics revealing that Latin America middle class reached 34.4% this year and that it will outnumber the region’s poor by 2016. Other important topics such as the eradication of extreme poverty in some countries and improvements in income distribution in emerging economies of the region are sending positive signals of the great economic outlook of countries such as Brazil, Chile and Peru that we cannot overlook!
    Thanks for sharing this y…que viva Latinoamérica!

  • read mcnamara

    April 22nd, 2014

    Excellent way to keep the momentum going. I am thinking of ways to intensify the LATAM dimension. I expect to spend a lot more time on this during the summer.

  • Catalina Lizarralde

    April 22nd, 2014

    Hi Eric!

    This post made me so proud not only about my heritage, but also as a Vanderbilt Student. You see, ever since my very first day at Owen, I have felt that my unique background (as a Colombian that lived in Ecuador and Austria) was a valuable component of our class. Moreover, from the start I realized that due to our size, each student is empowered to share their unique story and contribute to the overall educational experience.

    As the President of the OSGA, I am grateful to be in a place where diversity, in all of its forms, is encouraged. This tight community, enabled by a personalized curriculum that emphasizes personal, professional and leadership development has made Owen a safe place for me to grow as a leader and professional. Needless to say, I am grateful that this “fireball of energy” is not constrained and instead is set free to dream big and drive fun ideas that continue to make our program unique.

    To my Latin peers reading this post, this is our time. Latin America though wonderful in is multicultural richness, is an area that is in critical need of educated leaders with a critical global and business understanding. It’s time to enhance our Latin brand and start making a difference. I unite with Gaby and say…. que viva Latinoamérica!

  • Drew Dunlop

    April 24th, 2014

    As an Owen alum and former member of the Latin Business Association, I am pleased to see our connections in the whole of the Americas is growing stronger. The founding of the Latin Business Challenge is a great accomplishment for the school, and a legacy of which the founders can be proud.

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