From Rio to Georgetown: Trekking through the MBA Experience
Learn how real students navigate their way through the business school admissions process and b-school itself with our What is Business School Really Like? series.
Meet Fernando, an entrepreneur and international student at Georgetown.
Fernando, thank you for sharing your story with us!
I understand you are an unusual entrepreneur in that you founded a business… for your parents. Can you share a bit about how and why you undertook this project? How have things been going?
Fernando: As self-employed professionals, my parents had no social security or financial cushion to count on in hard times. Even in our toughest moments, my education was their highest priority. I felt I must give back.
After I graduated from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio, I accepted an offer to work in the financial market in São Paulo. Going there was not an easy decision, as I had to forgo the Master in Economics. Furthermore, I had no place to live; I asked for assistance from a priest, and he allowed me to live at the church in a room behind the altar for a semester.
In 2013, while working at Itaú Bank, I withdrew my savings and started a fashion business to support my family. My mother is an embroiderer, so I ordered a machine from China to replicate her work and gain scale. I managed strategy, financing, and procurement so my parents could focus on their skills.
In the second year of the business, I found myself at a crossroads because the machine was sometimes out-of-service due to maintenance, which impacted our deliverables. I took a risk and invested in a second machine, and this paid off. Five years later, BordaDora reached revenues of over $150K per year.
How has managing BordaDora helped to prepare you for business school and your future career?
Fernando: More than what I learned, I got what I must learn to be a leader for business and society.
BordaDora unfolds a world I haven’t seen working for big companies. Now I can identify much clearer how the Georgetown MBA will fill in my gaps in knowledge and behavior in many ways. If you know how important each class is and connect it with your past experiences, the course becomes much more attractive.
To give you an example, at Georgetown we have classes to practice negotiation in quite realistic environments. I learned that negotiation is essential the hard way when I faced conflicts with a partner company:
Once I partnered with a sewing company to produce dresses, and we delivered one order below the required quantity due to technical problems from my side. The partner wanted us to pay for them an amount representing 20% of my annual revenue. It would have meant the end of BordaDora.
I asked multiple times for the data backing the cost, discussed by phone and email and then visited the CEO of the partnership. We negotiated the terms of the solution based on the information we both prepared. Through this process, I learned, however, that logic and data were not enough in business. You need a ton of soft skills to discuss and solve conflicts. By the way, the company had overpriced their costs to get more from us.
What made you decide to pursue an MBA, and why did you go abroad to do it?
Fernando: Since 2015, I have been redirecting my career to increase my impact, strengthen my management skills, and look beyond Brazil. Without this change, I saw a plateau in my career when I looked forward. I also wanted to develop my English, since serving international clients was an issue for me. Then I welcomed the challenge of doing a master’s in a new language. Being surrounded by English-speaking leaders is making me improve much faster and become aware of business trends.
The Georgetown MBA is a high brand that will help me to follow my passion and pave my career path. It gives me access to top-notch professors and a diverse student body in a city that puts together influential business leaders and policymakers from all around the globe.
An application consultant showed me I was a good fit for Georgetown University. She was vital in my process from the selection of universities to my final choice among programs I was accepted to. I can’t be grateful enough.
Did you experience any bumps along the road to business school acceptance? If so, how did you identify and address the issues?
Fernando: Yes, bumps always happen. In my case, I had planned to get into the MBA in 2017; then I delayed my goal by one year for personal reasons. If you think the perfect timing is tomorrow, try it today. Therefore, I applied for one university in 2017 even knowing I wouldn’t have a strong candidacy. It was like the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) of my application. The following year, it was much easier to apply for the universities I planned: I knew the caveats, my weakness, the material to study, and the documents needed.
Did you participate in any extracurricular activities prior to applying to business school? How do you think these experiences contributed to the strength of your candidacy?
Fernando: I mentored high-potential high school students. I organized tours to exciting places and held meetings with inspiring professionals, expanding the students’ world view.
However, supporting NGOs is not the only path to build a stronger candidacy. I also took more risks at my job and asked for managerial and strategical projects.
Since the English language was an issue for me, I took online classes in English such as “Introduction to Mathematical Thinking” (Stanford University) and “Learning How to Learn” (UC San Diego) with high performance, and I wrote about it in my optional letter.
It’s hard to say what was most important. I believe every decision was relevant to create an overview of myself for the admissions teams.
How did you prepare for the GMAT?
Fernando: First, I read many sites about the test, particularly GMAT Club. I tested multiple online courses, the best and most convenient way to study for me. I made the mistake of paying for a local class in Brazil. It’s important to remember you can take it from anywhere; the competition is global. For example, the best content for the verbal section for me was from an Indian company.
I created a comfortable place to study at home every night. Sometimes I studied early morning or at lunch near work as well. But consistency is more important than intensity. I tried not to blame myself when I missed a day and keep going.
Did you take the TOEFL, and if so how did you prepare?
Fernando: I studied first for the GMAT, and I put the TOEFL aside until getting a good grade. I believe that was more efficient since the long prep for GMAT helped me on the TOEFL. Besides that, TOEFL is not classificatory; you are fine if you reach the required grade.
When I was done with the GMAT, I studied for a few weeks with a private teacher and did an online course.
Georgetown’s application includes a video component. How did you approach it?
Fernando: I enjoyed it much more than I had imagined. Creating a video was a new experience for me.
First, I imagined my whole life as a trek, and the MBA as a critical step. Next, I wrote the script and chose the trail of the Sugar Loaf Mountain – one of the most beautiful places in Rio de Janeiro – to walk narrating my story. My wife was patient enough to record many takes, and the editor of my wedding video helped me edit this one too.
I managed it like any other project at work. Before starting, I put everyone on the same page: the reviewer of the script, the video editor, me and my wife. It allowed me to get the job done in two days.
The final message: don’t underestimate how hard it is to compress your story into a one-minute video!
Have you become involved in any clubs on campus?
Fernando: I’m on the board of the FinTech club. Last year, I co-organized the first Georgetown FinTech trek to visit companies in NY. This year, I helped in running our first FinTech career day, when FinTech companies joined us to talk and recruit on campus. It has been a wonderful experience.
What do you think your classmates would be surprised to know about you?
Fernando: I rappelled down a flooded cave in Bonito, Brazil, 72 meters deep up to the water line. I dived in this lake of unknown depth. This sensation became my concept of infinity, it was like floating in space.
What field do you hope to work in after graduation?
Fernando: My purpose is to make finance a means for creating more equal opportunities. I can reach it either working for mission-driven companies or institutions financing them. With my background in economics, finance, and technology, I believe that financial innovation can increasingly play a role in creating more inclusive economies. I look forward to being part of that evolution.
Do you have any advice for international students who plan to pursue an MBA in the U.S.?
Fernando: Take care of yourself, trim off the edges on your life and visualize your long-term plan. Studying for the GMAT is demanding, then you must be prepared to run the marathon and to make hard choices.
After you are accepted, be open to new experiences and engage with professors and other students. It’s unbelievable how fast you can learn from this diverse environment.
Do you have questions for Fernando? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next What is Business School Really Like? post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!
You can learn more about Fernando by connecting with him on LinkedIn.
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