"Wednesday morning it was thrilling to see every member of the team step up and present their work. We have all been challenged with this project, and I feel that everyone has also had a chance to show some of their best work.
I have learned a great deal. Working with the global leader in the seed business has given me a chance to get a ground-level view of the opportunities of the Brazilian agricultural sector. The sector will grow more than 9% in Brazil this year, and Monsanto’s business with it. It is impressive to see a company on such a strong growth trajectory working for efficiency gains now. The company is taking measures to ensure that it maintains its market lead and profitability when the market matures, which will be years down the road.
I have also learned a lot from my team. One lesson is to think ten moves ahead, to understand ahead of time how everyone’s work will coalesce. I learned that I have to over-communicate with the rest of the team, collecting feedback and using everyone’s ideas to improve the plan while not losing focus on the final deliverable.
Another lesson for me is that there is no substitute for taking time to build the team. Incredible divergences in opinions, believes, and working styles can be reconciled when members of the time have gotten to know each other over a phone call, a dinner or a beer.
This project was a great experience. I had the luck to work with an excellent team, client and faculty advisor; and I am very proud of our work."
Why did you join GBP? I joined GBP for several reasons: work on a virtual teams, work on a multicultural environment, to start learning working as a consultant and having the support of a foreign university. All this will endorse my future professional experience and will help me to develop new skills.
Did it live up to your expectations? Yes a lot!
What was your favorite moment during the project? Seeing the client reactions to our deliverables and listening how satisfied he was.
Most challenging aspect? To capture the client needs and revert it in a great result. Besides the challenge of working in a virtual team and developing the project in parts and after that get all together.
Anything you wished you had done? No. I think I delivered everything I tried to do best. I really devoted lot of time in trying to bring the team the necessary understanding of the process, which I believe help them also deliver a great job!
1. I joined GBP to put myself in an uncomfortable/unknown situation and to force myself to grow by doing whatever it takes to succeed. I have found that this is the best way for me to grow and learn as a professional and the added benefit of international travel was the cherry on top.
2. GBP exceeded my expectations primarily because we had such a talented, diverse team and a client that facilitated us in every way possible. All the positive feedback from the client justified the hard work and long hours we put in. I also appreciated the cultural aspect of the project as well.
3. My favorite moment from the experience was presenting. That was our opportunity to demonstrate to the client that, despite the extreme time constraints, we had a strong understanding of the problem and the capacity to deliver a recommendation that would truly add value.
4. The most challenging aspect of GBP is pushing forward in the interest of time. Given the small window with which we had to work, it was impossible to gain a deep understanding of every single aspect of the problem we were trying to solve. Instead, we were forced to leverage each other and incrementally gain buy-in from the client in order to rapidly make strides. This aspect of the experience provided a great lesson that I will apply in the future.
5. I really wish I had a deeper understanding of the Portuguese language. I struggled the first few days, but managed to master a few of the conversational staples with the help of my teammates. Still, a firmer grasp on the language would have offered exponential gains on the cultural aspects of the experience.
6. I have plans to return to Brazil next year for the World Cup and some additional travelling. This was a decision that I made while in country thanks to the wonderful experience facilitated by GBP.
Why did you join GBP?At Columbia the mantra is joining bridging theory with practice and GBP is one of the only projects available that delivers on that. I was also interested in operations, something in my previous life as a banker I rarely got exposed to. Oh and we go to Brazil, enough said.
Did it live up to your expectations? Absolutely! It’s no stroll in the park to be clear, but one of my most interesting challenges at business school so far.
What was your favorite moment during the project? It’s a tie between our hub city weekend and the final presentation. The hub weekend for a great soft landing – a day after finals – into all that is Brazil. Running around Porto Alegre with the team for two days, I laughed so much I would get dimple cramps at times. And of course seeing the client react to a piece of analysis and watch the light switch turn off in their head was extremely rewarding.
Most challenging aspect? Going through my due diligence questions on the specifics of the corn sizing and cleaning process with the plant managers in Portuguese. I learnt more in that week than in 2 month of language classes.
Anything you wished you had done? Plan a few more things around Sao Paolo, times flies and it was a lot of work, but there was definitely opportunities to squeeze in some sights.
And the question is not will I be going back to Brazil, but when, and the World Cup seems like a pretty good reason. Oh what do you know, it’s right after graduation...
Why did you join GBP? I joined for the opportunity to learn business practices in a developing market
Did it meet expectations? GBP exceeded all expectations! The program allowed students to dive right into the many different cultures of brazil
Favorite moment? Definitely the scavenger hunt in PA. We were forced to practice our poor language skills (lol) with brazilians, site see, and team build all at the same time!
Most challenging? Getting ready for the final presentation. Lilo intensely worked on this project since February, and trying to present so much work in so little time proved exhausting!
Something you wish you had done? We definitely should have scheduled a team reunion !!
Are you planning on coming back to Brazil? GBP has equipped me with the skills and knowledge to visit Brazil for the World Cup!
Closing the loop: a visit to the corn fields
Today the team had a great opportunity to understand the full production cycle by visiting one of Monsanto’s corn fields. With the help of the field production supervisor, everyone had a chance to understand the cross pollination process that creates the hybrid corn that is treated and packaged at the plant here in Uberlandia. The complexities of the plant’s processes can really be traced back to the field and the fact that corn is a living organism.
Monsanto spends a considerable amount of resources on R&D in developing these hybrid seeds and the process of growing them is perhaps even more complex than processing them. Walking through the field, the scale of Monsanto’s operations in Brazil – its second largest market after the US – became clear, fields till the eye could see, and a little further...
For most of us on the team that have not seen a corn processing plant outside of the Youtube videos, process flow diagrams and excel reports we’ve been going through over the last 3 months, actually touring the Uberlandia plant today was a eureka moment.
Although no corn was being processed, going through each step and asking the thousands of questions that we had was a great moment for the project. Boarded up into a conference room at the plant for the rest of the day the Monsanto plant and planning supervisors were on hand to continue taking rapid fire questions from everyone as we all work to understand and analyze a unique part of the production process. Just a few days left in Uberlandia to finalize all our primary research before heading to Sao Paolo on Saturday to finalize our recommendations and present to management on Wednesday.
Finally, here we are. After close to four months of working virtually, meeting on Google hangouts, talking on Skype, sharing the quote of the day on Groupme, the eagle has landed and the whole team is together again in Porto Alegre for the Hub city weekend!
As seems to be the rule with GBP weekends, every day is jam packed! Our first day is hosted by UNISINOS University, presenting a series of lectures on Brazil, whether its economy is over-heating, the common culture that brings 190MM people to call themselves Brazilian and what foods matter here! Every team then transitioned to a typical lunch orchestrated by the UNISINOS culinary school and the day ended with a panel on innovation hosted by SAP Brazil. To cap things off close to 40 MBAs were treated to glorious Churrascaria, serving more meat than I’ve seen all year.
Day 2 led us on a scavenger hunt across the city, finding out the hard way how to navigate in Portuguese and complete some often outlandish challenges. That being said we could rely on Isadora, our undergraduate local “guide” assigned to our team, to help make it a soft landing… One last night in Puerto Alegre took us to a concert filled with new friend and Cachaça.
"Since the start of the project, I understand better how Monsanto transforms their business model every few years, proving innovation is their ‘X factor’. Innovation in an industry as old as agriculture must coexist.
What I enjoyed the most so far? the Launch Weekend! I enjoy robust discussion, so being put in a room with 100 scholarly students and executives, who will drive decision making at major corporations, for 54 hours straight, proved most enjoyable to me... so far.
Como está o seu português vindo? Eu uso um monte de aplicativos traduzindo como Traduz Google e duolingo
How much are you looking forward to Brazil? Words cant describe. As in country logistics coordinator, there are some many great things planned!"
"In fact the experience with this project allowed me to know, not only about Monsanto, but also about corn crop, in particular, the seed corn.
Based on the vist to the Agrobusiness ExpoDireto Fair, I was able to learn a bit about planting, harvesting, about the different types of hybrids. Additionally, as the different insecticides and herbicides are used and their impact on crop productivity, that has been very interesting for me.
Visiting the fair, I also realized the importance of Monsanto for the sector, since they detain some brands of herbicides and insecticides used by its competitors, and owns the patent on some of the technologies, it truly is a market leader.
In order to gather information for the project, I also had the opportunity to speak with many industry professionals, which has enabled me to help the group with greater wealth of information in the mapping process.
As responsible for the Cultural and Language aspect of the trip, I prepared a sort of weekly report with information or some videos related to two topics: 1) providing information on cultural / Portuguese aspects and 2) some technical information (about processing of seed, about the corn industry, information on some important sector´s institution ) which I know the team greatly enjoyed!
Favorite moment working on this project? To go to the field and talk with the professionals. I am also excited to visit one of the Monsanto sites, when I will have the chance to go into details on all steps of the process!"
"Based on the scope of the project, my initial guess was that the company is utilizing processing methods that were based on what had worked in the past, without actual data driving decisions. Kind of like a “this is the way we’ve always done it” approach. I have found reality to be quite removed from this hypothesis. Monsanto is constantly looking for ways to improve, they question the current methodologies, and they rely on data to guide their strategies. Speaking of data, Monsanto has a plethora of it. The challenge is asking the right questions to determine which data are the most important, whether or not the correct metric is being measured, and the impact certain changes could have on other aspects of the process. Much like the rest of the team, I am currently swimming in data and trying to keep my head above water.
Also, the team has been much more forthcoming than I anticipated. Our points of contact have made it clear that they have a vested interest in the success of the project and they are willing to help us achieve our goal. We are hoping to deliver a successful project so that we represent our respective schools, the CIBER consortium, and, most of all, so the Monsanto employees will show us a great time in Brazil once we have presented our final solution!"
"Having little expertise is lean manufacturing or the agri business I thought I would struggle a lot more than I am to gather pace and add value on this project. The team over at Monsanto have been incredibly supportive and really want to see us succeed in our recommendations to deliver actionable solutions. Data, lots and lots of data is the key here. Breaking down the stages one by one and working effectively virtually has been challenging by the we have a great team here. Really can't wait to hit the ground running in Brazil and deliver!"
The Monsanto GBP has provided a unique opportunity to meet and work with other MBA and PhD students from different backgrounds. The broad experience and insight each of us brings to the table helps move the project forward and to start devising the type of solutions our customer needs. Meeting with our client on a regular basis and interacting with them openly, expressing our understanding of the project scope and objectives helped have a clear objective and frame the issues they need us to address.Working in a project within an industry that’s unrelated to my background and goals has allowed me to identify what parts of the project to which I can contribute and which I can use to build on my skills, including language.
My favorite moment so far? Meeting the team at the launch weekend in Washington was a fantastic experience. Our team is focused and hard-working and being able to put a face to the people with whom I’m now working was very valuable. That weekend helped us set the base on which we then built our project and spending so much time together we were able to start knowing each other, which is key to working in such a project.My Portuguese? Progressing. I’m relying on its similarity to the other romance languages I speak and look forward to putting in practice in Brazil!
I’m definitely looking forward to Brazil and Uberlandia. Working on site and seeing Monsanto’s production process after working on it through charts and spreadsheets will be rewarding and will allow us to bring everything together by working more closely with the client!"
Our assignment that will take us to Sao Paolo and Porto Alegre in May is focused on identifying and benchmarking Monsanto’s KPI measurement systems within the newest of 6 seed manufacturing plants in Brazil. After three days as a team with MBAs from NY to brazil via Wisconsin, Pitsburg and North Carolina, it is clear there is a great amount of expertise to draw on from everyone. In addition to some serious focus on getting the most of Brazilian culture packed into the two weeks on the ground.