Impressions from Sao Paulo, Brazil

| Global Business

It’s been many years since I worked in Brazil. I was PepsiCo Foods International 1st CEO and we began our journey in 1973 with the acquisition of a very small Sao Paulo potato chip company called Chips and a pretzel company in Curitiba called Elma. Together these two companies had a little over $1 million in annual revenue.

In 1973 Brazil’s government was a military dictatorship, both inflation and currency devaluation exceeded 30%, and interest rates were about 25%. We had a two-year waiting period to get a telephone line and an old fashioned Telex machine was our only means to transmit text messages as Fax wasn’t yet commercially available. A 10-minute phone call cost about $150 and one typically waited after scheduling an overseas call for about seven hours before an operator rang back to say, “Your calling circuit is available now.” How the world has changed. Yet 15 minutes after we left the Sao Paulo airport I spotted an Elma Chips snack food van with a smiling face logo exactly the way I had drawn it back in 1973. What a pleasant flashback!

There were about 1,000 young entrepreneurs and media people in the audience at my speech in Sao Paulo. Info@Abril had asked me to talk about how companies create big ideas. It was a neat topic and I loved preparing for it. As a quick overview, I divided my 60-minute speech into five themes: game-changing lessons learned; visionary leadership I’ve observed from the best; mastering domain expertise in a post-PC era; tele-health, three case histories from my portfolio – as examples of disruptive innovation; and understanding the ground rules for “The Adaptive Corporation.” The 30 minutes of Q&A that followed my speech focused on what Brazil needs to do to have more successful entrepreneurial companies.

Sao Paulo appears to have a lot of talent thirsting for entrepreneurial opportunities; however, venture capital is scarce; it has few local role models yet; government regulations are bureaucratic; and there is little cultural acceptance regarding how important permission to fail is to ultimate success.

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