This heavy domestic bias clearly has had limited appeal abroad. There are almost no international students to speak of, not even from regional Spanish-speaking neighbours since most of the teaching is in Portuguese.
Most business schools, however, have started to realise that international connections are essential, if only for the benefit of their students, and leading institutions have developed an impressive network of alliances and partnerships with business schools the world over.
FGV-EAESP, for instance, one of the best and oldest business schools in Brazil, has an impressive network of 71 partner schools in 29 countries.
Exchange programmes for COPPEAD and FDC also read like a Financial Times MBA ranking; and several western business schools, such as Harvard Business School, Katz and INSEAD, have been running short executive education programmes in partnership with leading Brazilian institutions with tremendous success.
Gauging the quality of business education in Brazil remains delicate, however. There is wide consensus that standards are excellent, but essentially Brazilian schools target executives in their late 30s or early 40s, and run programmes that are practical and client-driven. Full-time MBAs are rare, so few schools can obtain accreditation from international bodies such as the Association of MBAs.
Many schools are aware of these deficiencies and have pulled out of the rankings. Only COPPEAD has made it into the 2006 FT ranking at 92nd place; interestingly, it ranked first in terms of value for money, but last for career progress. A lot of prestige is associated with American universities and many students will trade a better course at home for a worse one in the US.
But the peculiarities of the Brazilian system might also be what will give it an edge. Lourdes Casanova, a lecturer at INSEAD, who has worked with Brazilian schools and executives, says Brazil has learnt to capitalise on its assets, be it engineering, technology or environmental innovation.
Historically, Brazil has bred successful and versatile executives - perhaps business schools should just carry on doing their own thing.
CORRECTION: In last month's Country Profile, the cost of an MBA at INSEAD referred to a one-year programme, not a two-year MBA
TOP BRAZILIAN BUSINESS SCHOOLS (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
Brazilian Business School, Sao Paulo
Business School Sao Paulo
COPPEAD, Rio de Janeiro
Fundacao Getulio Vargas (FGV)-Ebape, Rio de Janeiro
Fundacao Getulio Vargas (FGV)-EAESP, Sao Paulo Fundacao Instituto de
Administracao (FIA), Sao Paulo
Faculdade de Informatica e Administracao Paulista (FIAP), Sao Paulo
Fundacao Armando Alvares Penteado, Sao Paulo
Fundacao Dom Cabral (FDC), Minas Gerais
Fundace, Ribeirao Preto
Ibmec, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo
Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio de Janeiro
Universidade de Pittsburg Katz School of Business, Sao Paulo
BRAZILIAN ENTREPRENEURS AND EXECUTIVES
MAURICIO BOTELHO, Embraer
Mauricio Botelho is the stuff of legend in Brazil. The country has always had a particular interest in the flying business; indeed, many Brazilians hail local hero Alberto Santos Dumont as the true father of aviation rather than the Wright brothers. So when Botelho took over the ailing Embraer in 1995 and turned it into a profitable company capable of giving Bombardier a run for its money, the symbolism was strong. Embraer is now the world's fourth largest aircraft manufacturer and a leader in regional aircraft.
When Botelho took over, however, the state had just sold Embraer to private investors and the company was haemorrhaging money. It took a repositioning of the business on the regional jet segment, painful pay cuts (management took a 10% pay cut in line with union requests) and a little luck with the market for Embraer to take off. Botelho took on a company with little fuel left in its can and made risky strategic and financial decisions.
He also invested heavily in training and set up an 18-month aeronautical engineering programme, as well as an in-house MBA with a strong foreign trade focus. Unsurprisingly then, Embraer's biggest worry is not what Bombardier's next move will be, or what investors will do once stock sale restrictions are lifted in 2007, but who will succeed the 63-year old Botelho when he retires.
LUIZA HELENA TRAJANO, Magazine Luiza
Head of the country's third largest retail chain, Luiza Trajano has revolutionised the concept of retail in a country with notoriously volatile interest rates, poor credit ratings and high poverty levels. Trajano's trademark has been an aggressive but clever marketing strategy aimed at the poor of Brazil. She has innovated with an unusual mix of low-interest credits, excellent personalised customer service, community facilities and pioneering use of technology. In a country where many people don't even have a bank account, Trajano introduced virtual shops - where products are demonstrated on computers by salespeople - in 1992. Magazine Luiza also started e-shopping way before any of its competitors. Trajano opted to give more power to her store managers and salespeople by letting them set their own targets and prices. Transparency and an emphasis on strong team bonds also ensured high employee morale, which helped the company through a tough economic period. Magazine Luiza has turned a profit every year since 1992. After a series of acquisitions in 2004 and 2005, however, the company is facing a challenge to maintain its culture. With strong annual growth (40%), market flotation prospects and a rejigging of its capital ownership, Trajano may have to put her innovative cap back on to convince her thousands of employees that her company is still the best to work for.
HUMBERTO RIBEIRO, Politec
Humberto Ribeiro is a busy and passionate man, the kind to put a country on the map, which is exactly what he has set out to do for his homeland. Ribeiro is one of two directors at Brasscom, an organisation set up in 2004 by seven leading Brazilian IT companies, including Politec, of which Ribeiro is executive vice-president, to promote Brazil as a global outsourcing player.
Brazil boasts many underexploited assets as an outsourcing destination: it is located in a central time-zone for Europe and America, and has a very mature domestic IT market. Ribeiro jokes that Brazil has been IT's best-kept secret and he seems determined to change that state of affairs. With a training as a civil engineer, he realised early on the potential of the internet in the construction industry. Driven by this conviction, he set up his own internet venture, Superobra, to supply business-to-business IT services in the construction industry. He is now chairman of the board of Superobra. Listening to him speak, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is just a hobby for him. In fact, Politec was ranked second in BusinessWeek's list of global emerging outsourcing players in January, and Brazil is fast gaining international visibility. Ribeiro is indeed a man on a mission.
RICARDO SEMLER, Semco
Ricardo Semler seldom needs introducing: he has been profiled in more than 200 magazines and newspapers, and is present in every leader ranking from Time 100 to the World Economic Forum. At his manufacturing company Semco, employees set their own hours, holidays and pay; they choose their boss, their office and whether they attend meetings. At the time many thought it was a passing whim: unsustainable and bound to fail. But 24 years on, Semler has had the last laugh. His company has weathered some of Brazil's toughest economic turmoil and revenues have grown from $4 million in 1982 to $212 million in 2003. The workforce now has over 3,000 employees, up from just 90 when Semler joined. Semler's 1989 article in the Harvard Business Review, 'Managing without managers', is still one of the most popular reprints, and his books, Maverick: the success story behind the world's most unusual workplace (1993) and The seven-day weekend: changing the way work works (2004), have been international best-sellers.
GUILHERME PEIRAO LEAL, ANTONIO LUIZ DA CUNHA SEABRA, PEDRO LUIZ BARREIROS PASSOS, Natura
Natura It's been a good year for the Brazilian cosmetics company trio of co-chairmen: two of them, Luiz Seabra and Guilherme Leal, have just made it into Fortune's 2006 list of billionaires. Seabra started Natura in 1969 as a small lab with a single shop in Sao Paulo; it is now a vibrant cosmetics empire with a portfolio of 600 products, half a million consultants in Latin America and revenues of $1.5 billion. Dubbed the 'Brazilian Body Shop', Natura has made its name through its ethics and values. One of its product lines, Ekos, is derived entirely from products grown sustainably in the Amazon. Natura also branded itself very early on as a company with a social edge. "For over a decade now, our strategy has been anchored to the belief that a business can be a powerful engine for social transformation and help create a much more just and egalitarian society," said the 2005 annual report. A board of directors was set up in 1998, six years before the company was floated on the Sao Paulo Stock Exchange, in an effort to promote transparency. It is also the only company in Latin America to have signed up to the Global Reporting Initiative, whereby companies produce reports on the social and environmental impacts of their activities.
Natura's consultants are also involved with campaigns promoting education and the use of refills to minimise the environmental impact of the company.
Such a philosophy should raise the bar of corporate social responsibility standards worldwide. The company opened its first European store in Paris last year and the French have given it the thumbs up.