Ana Carolina de Oliveira

Ana Carolina de Oliveira

Nationality: Brazilian
Age: 29  
Currently: Executive MBA participant 
Environmental & Social Risk Advisor for ING Group

Why did you want to study for an MBA?
I wanted to pursue further education and at the same time work on the development of my soft skills so I can make more efficient use of my creativity in a corporate environment. The biggest development in my personal skills will be to influence and persuade people to understand key points and see the broader picture. I’m exposed to a lot of situations where I have to exercise that skill, and we’re practicing that in our work groups right now. It’s a very enriching experience. 

Why did you choose RSM for your MBA?
I was looking for a business school with a good reputation, international recognition and expertise in sustainability, which ties in with my current work. RSM is well known for research in this field. And there’s such a great international background here; I love the fact that there are nearly 40 different nationalities in our EMBA class – that’s 50% of the students. It is a very high proportion for a part-time education programme. 

What does your job entail? There are two main tasks. The first is to develop risk policies and get them approved by our senior committees. That includes recommending in which sectors and activities the bank should not be working and also to set guidelines to influence a positive change in our clients. Our policies have to apply globally, and it can be difficult to get stakeholders all over the world into agreement because of cultural and market differences – for example, issues related to defence, human rights and environmental impact are all viewed differently in different countries. 

The second task starts when policies are applied to projects, clients and transactions. In order to get credit approval, the client needs to demonstrate a sound sustainability framework, which includes industry certifications, environmental systems and labour policies which should be in line with the standards of our organisation. To ensure a level playing field with regard to sustainable financing, mainstream banks are part of the ‘Equator Principles’ – a voluntary set of guidelines for determining, assessing and managing social and environmental risks in project financing. These guidelines have been in place since 2003, and about 70 of the international banks use them. 

In other words, my job is not purely financial or dealing with clients, but covers the grey area that deals with non-financial issues that can lead to reputation risk. Therefore, every case is separate and work can be quite demanding. The policy department has a total of 12 team members, and four advisors to look after environmental risk – coincidently all women. 

As a young woman from a thriving and developing economy, how can an MBA help you in your career? 
I plan to go back to Brazil one day and use all the knowledge and experience I’m gathering in Europe, but before that I’d like to see more of the world. One of the big advantages of having an MBA from an internationally-recognised school is that it’s a passport to work around the world and allows you to change industries in a more structured way if you like. This certainly is a good trigger mechanism for my career. 

I was really impressed by Hong Kong during our visit there earlier this year. I found it very lively and dynamic – although they use too much electricity! This was my first time in Asia and I found it to be something quite unusual. Hong Kong has a lot of western influence, but it’s clearly the entrance door to Asia, which seems to be a completely different world. I could easily spend one or two years there. It would help with my understanding of international business and globalisation. As an emerging market, South America has a lot to benefit from the Asian experience, especially because we still echo the business culture of the United States. Asia is quite different to anything I’ve seen before. 

If I go back to Brazil I want to continue working on the sustainability theme. There’s huge potential for increased sustainability in Brazil’s rich commodities sector and there is so much you could do to make the production of commodities more sustainable. It’s more profitable to be sustainable – and adopting sustainability into business shouldn’t be considered a cost. 

Do you get the chance to use your creative side?
 I studied piano at a conservatoire in Brazil for 12 years, and used to play at weddings, dinners and celebrations. That required creativity and improvisation and apart from being fun, it helped to pay for my first degree. I’m not active any more, unfortunately, as I don’t have a piano now – if I did I’d have to sleep on it as my house is very small! The Dutch love classical music and I’ve been to a few concerts in Amsterdam. In any case, although I’ve left this hobby behind me for now, I plan to have a grand piano in my home one day. 

In my work, I get to use my creative side to develop new policies – here’s where you can explore new ideas. Sometimes, it’s true, I do feel a bit constrained by processes and hierarchy, but I’m happy I can use my creative side in the MBA. We studied the Belbin Team Roles test in the Personal Leadership Development programme and I’m definitely the creative type. With a new team just starting I have the opportunity to enhance the skill of putting good ideas into practice and make it a success! 

What has been your most memorable moment so far?
 To my surprise, my team won the competition for business cases for China during our trip to Hong Kong. We presented a business case for a Corporate Sustainability consultancy focused on China. We tried to use the lectures and company visits we had that week as much as possible. There were seven or eight other projects, including some very impressive presentations from the other groups, but we won! Straight after the study week in Hong Kong I had a week of leisure in Beijing and Shanghai. The entire experience in Asia was memorable. 

What reinforced your decision to do an MBA?
I was thinking about pursuing further education since I moved to the Netherlands, but it wasn’t clear in my mind which programme I should try. I decided to go for the EMBA programme all of a sudden, so my application was made a little bit last-minute. The desire to do it built up slowly. At the age of 25 I still needed a little more professional experience, and needed to think about what I wanted to achieve with this investment. It was also good to work in the English language for a couple more years before starting. I always wanted to deepen my knowledge and sharpen my soft skills so I could be perceived at the right level of seniority, despite age and cultural background. After some years working in the Netherlands, it became clearer that I should do an MBA. 
The part-time programme was my preferred option. There are advantages to studying as an executive while still working. I find I can apply the new knowledge that is still fresh in my head; I have the ability to use it immediately, and it reinforces what I learn. Besides, it is financially more manageable than doing a full-time MBA. 

What do you think of the professors? 
I'm very pleased with the professors, in terms of diversity of styles and nationality, although some subjects are more demanding than I had anticipated. You have to use every moment of the lessons to get the most from the professors as they’re internationally busy. Most of them work in different universities around the world, so they have real-world experience to impart to us. This international diversity matches with the profile of the class too. 

How do you find the schedule? 
It’s busy and takes more time than I initially anticipated. It takes up almost every weekend even when I’m not in class. I had to stop other activities, such as language lessons, to dedicate my time to the EMBA. It is a big investment of time and effort, but at the end, you take from the programme what you put into it, so it will be worth it. 

How would you recommend discussing your MBA aspirations with your company in order to get financial and time support?
 Since I joined ING, I was the first one in my department to take the initiative to follow further executive education. I discussed my expectations with my manager some months before starting the application, so it was not a surprise when I was accepted. Although I am a self-financing student, the company supports me with flexible schedule for the days I have classes or tight deadlines. I’d say you should build a good business case including examples of how much more effective you’ll become, and how it will improve your skills and productivity. Studying for an MBA means you can extend your knowledge and learn how to work more efficiently and effectively. It should be seen as a win-win situation. 

How did you get the scholarship? 
The Intermediair scholarship covers one-third of my tuition fees, and there are two scholarships offered every year to self-financing candidates. Due to the financial crisis and restructuring going through my organisation, it would be difficult to obtain financial support. Instead, I applied for the Intermediair scholarship, and ING supports me with flexibility, for which I’m very grateful. 

Have you been able to apply what you’re learning in your job? 
Yes I think so – especially in negotiation of difficult topics, convincing stakeholders and getting their agreement. I’m sharpening my communication skills to make it more effective; I’ve learned when to step back and take a wider view. This has been important for me, because 90% of my work is not the policy or the content, but getting agreement from all stakeholders. The work with the group is a great opportunity to practice before applying it in real life. 

If you were to start your EMBA studies again, would you do anything differently? 
I would try and learn more from my peers, not just in assignments but also to discuss careers and content. There are endless excuses not to – you’re busy, or you’re tired, communication is not optimal (many meetings via Skype). But the learning you can get from fellow students is priceless and you should make the most of it. They can give you the kind of education you won’t find in a book or anywhere else.