Once again, so much has happened since my last post. Independent Activities Period (IAP) in January was definitely something that I will never get the chance to do again since it is not likely that I will have a month off to do as I please. My G-Lab team set off on January 4th to South America for a 27 day whirlwind tour. We were scheduled to start work at ESPN in Sao Paulo, Brazil on January 11th, so we took the week beforehand to travel through Buenos Aires, Argentina and several cities in Chile (Santiago and Vina del Mar). Needless to say, there was nothing that disappointed us. The meat in Argentina was fantastic, and the fish and wine in Chile were superb. So, after a couple days on the beaches of Vina del Mar, we set off to Brazil to get down to business.
Once on the ground in Sao Paulo, the people from ESPN were incredible hosts. Upon arrival, one of our hosts, Marcelo, was at the airport with a van to pick us up and take us to our hotel in the Jardins, the nicest part of Sao Paulo with excellent shopping. After getting settled in, he took us to our first taste of the Brazilian churascarria, the steakhouse where meat is all you can eat. The first day onsite, we had a few introductory meetings to discuss the work plan along with the deliverables. This first day included a lunch of what became my favorite meal while in Brazil, feijoada, a stew with beef, pork, and beans. Mostly, the first week consisted of meetings with the directors in each of the departments at ESPN from marketing, sales, legal, finance, acquisitions, human resources, and new media. As we were there doing a project focused around new media, some of our most productive times were the lunch brainstorming sessions with our hosts Jose (New Media) and Marcelo (IT). Throughout the process, they made a very concerted effort to show us the different areas of Sao Paulo and what they had to offer.
Throughout the interviews, our team discovered that some of the research done before arriving did not reveal many things that we experienced firsthand while actually being there. We knew that soccer was the #1 sport, but we did not realize the magnitude of its penetration in Brazilian society. Literally, no other sports matter, which poses significant challenges for ESPN in Brazil because of media licensing rights for specific events. Globo, the media giant in Brazil, reserves all the rights for Brazilian soccer teams and most major events. In addition to being ESPN’s largest competitor, Globo is also ESPN’s greatest source of revenue through their affiliate stations (Sky and Net) that carry ESPN broadcasts. It became very clear that ESPN differentiates itself through the quality of unbiased journalistic integrity and talent personalities. We also found distinct differences in the mobile market because 80% of all mobile phones in Brazil are prepaid, posing even more challenges in pushing out new media initiatives. To aid us in our research, the ESPN team set up meetings with the new media groups at Disney, Time Warner, MTV, and Discovery in Sao Paulo to talk about how they are approaching the market hurdles.
Our final recommendations to ESPN, without getting into too much detail, were potential new ways to find new revenue streams via new media, ways to continue partnerships with the MIT ecosystem, new media process innovations to prepare for the multiplatform world, and ways to create a new concept around the ESPN360 brand to serve sports fans everywhere that they consume sports media. All in all, it was an amazing experience where everyone on our team learned so much, and we feel that we delivered a quality product that our hosts were very happy with.
For our last weekend in Brazil, we decided to take off on a quick jaunt to Rio de Janeiro. As it turned out, this became a highlight of our trip. We stayed in Leblon, right near the beaches of Ipanema where we lounged for most of the day before heading out to the samba clubs at night. On our second day there, we traveled up to Corcovado, where Christ the Redeemer overlooks the city and displays breathtaking views of the beaches and Sugarloaf hill in the distances. From that high up, it is very easy to see the social inequity among the city as favelas (city slums) back up to some of the richest neighborhoods in the city. While there, we also discovered an amazing smoothie snack comprised of acai berries and granola, nearly impossible to find in the US.
On the Job Front
Since my last post, I have decided to take an offer with Emerson Electric in St. Louis to do corporate strategic planning. I am extremely excited about this position for many reasons, and these reasons were cemented during a trip my wife and I took to St. Louis two weeks ago. While there, they arranged for a realtor to show us around the city since we had never spent any time there before and St. Louis really had never been on my radar as a place to live. We found a couple of areas in the city that were very nice and appealed to us, and we were enthralled by how much we could get for the money compared to other places. As a couple with a dog and plans to start a family in the near future, this was the ideal setting.
My foremost reason for accepting the job is undoubtedly the people and the company culture. We had the chance to have drinks with my future boss and his boss along with their wives before heading to Valentine’s dinner with three other people I will be working with and their spouses. My wife and I felt that it was an incredible fit for us and a very nurturing environment in which to work. In addition to the culture, the opportunities put forth in this position are very attractive to me, especially with the chance to work directly with and learn from the CEO, COO, and CFO of a company with nearly $25 billion in annual revenue. After two years, I will rotate out of the planning department and into one of the business units somewhere around the world.
With a job now secured, I have much more time to focus on classes this spring, which I am also very excited about. This past Wednesday night, I had the chance to have dinner with Christie Hefner, former CEO of Playboy Enterprises and also Hugh Hefner’s daughter. I was amazed at her poise and intelligence, and it was a very unique opportunity to hear from the 20-year CEO of such an iconic brand. This was organized as part of the CEO Perspectives: Corporations at the Crossroads class where we have a new CEO come to class each week. The first two CEOs were Dan Vasella from Novartis and Jim Senegal from Costco.
Although there is still some cold weather to go, it is now 50 degrees outside, so I am going to take the dog for a walk and enjoy the weather!