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To dot-com or not? That's the question for Latin America's Class of 2000 business leaders.

SIPPING COFFEE AT AN OUTDOOR CAFE jammed with Harvard University students, Claudia Sanchez readily admits that two years ago she thought the school's Business Administration program was simply a steppingstone to a career in investment banking or consulting.

But this is 2000 and, like many Latin American business school attendees, she's booking on an e-future. The region's next generation of leaders is clicking past the well-worn path of their parents and grandparents toward entrepreneurship and electronic commerce.

Sanchez chose Harvard because its degree tucks her into a powerful alumni network of movers and shakers with a curriculum that now straddles the Digital Divide. "I want some connection to the Internet world," says the petite Chilean, known to her friends and classmates as Manola.

Armed with an undergraduate degree in business administration and finance from Chile's Universidad Adolfo Ibanez in Valparaiso, Sanchez worked for McKinsey & Co. in Buenos Aires before heading off for a graduate degree. And that route is not unusual; many business degree candidates nab professional experience before--or during--their quest for a master's of business administration, or MBA.

Under a clutch of trees, within a nexus of purple-haired punks, lost teens, famous poets and professors, and full-time deep thinkers at permanently bolted chess tables, Sanchez details how Harvard has embraced the future.

In September, the university unveiled an Entrepreneurial Manager class to replace the decades-old General Management course that was required for first-year students. Harvard Business School students can now spend half their second year at a New York research center dubbed "Silicon Alley," and the conservative school lists as many as 11 Internet-related classes.

Other courses take students on a technological trek, from the conception of the Internet to future digital trends. The Entrepreneurial Finance class looks at the financing, as well as the risks and opportunities, of new start-ups.

Many Latin American business aspirants, both those heading off to study in the United States and those sticking closer to home at regional universities, are still approaching traditional employers, but--long term--they've got their eyes on being their own boss.

Creating the company. "In the future, I want to have my own company," says Marcelo Regen, a student at Instituto de Altos Estudios Empresariales (IAE). Regen, from Argentina's northwestern province of Tucuman, says he'll look for a job in the aeronautics industry after graduation but his dream is to start his own "airline, a flight training school, something related to the industry."

Regen, like other master's candidates at the Buenos Aires-based university, is required to take a Creation of New Companies course, for which he must write a business plan. The school also sponsors a competition to unearth good business ideas through its Center for Entrepreneurship. Top prize is US$30,000.

Until this year, the competition was open only to the university's community--including enrollees in the executive master's of business administration program and various executive development programs--but now students from other Argentine universities will be able to compete.

Despite the emphasis on what's new in the business world, conservative habits die hard. Even more so than their compatriots studying in the United States, master's degree students at Latin America universities seem intent on landing their first jobs with established companies. Maximiliano Marolda, who worked for the Argentine subsidiary of an European company before enrolling in the Instituto de Altos Estudios Empresariales, says he's "most interested in getting a job with a large international or local company to get more experience" before testing his entrepreneurial skills.

"I am a mechanical engineer and, with what I learned here, I want to get more involved with the operations of a company," he says, echoing the sentiments of other business school students in Argentina, who hesitate to throw themselves headlong down the entrepreneurial chute. That may be a reflection of a social reality in Argentina, where Internet jobs are not as readily available as they are in the United States (especially in Miami, which has become the Latin American Silicon barrio) and cash for start-up companies is not easy to nab.

Reduced-risk revolution? "You can say now it's far more risky to go to a traditional company," says Laureano who, after graduation in June, headed to Miami for a job at a Telefornica incubator for digital businesses. "Because of the Internet revolution, it's a safer path in the long run. The risk profile has actually shifted."

For Latin American students in the United States, a detour from traditional workplaces holds more appeal. Alberto Laureano, who left Mexico to get his master's degree at Harvard, is one of those turning their backs on the tried and true.

Laureano spent several years rising through the ranks of Procter & Gamble before heading to grad school. But he is so confident about the electronic future that he's taken a job that doesn't yet have a title with a company that doesn't yet have a name. His decision to relocate in Miami reflects another reality for today's business school grads--they're entering a work arena void of borders.

Like many a business student before her, Carolina Silva--an international student at Argentina's Instituto de Altos Estudios Empresariales--has set her sights on consulting, but she's unsure whether that career will unfold in her native Chile or elsewhere. For her, the future is "about industries without frontiers." Students may carry homeland loyalties, but they see the entire region as their work territory.

The preferences of these business school students may sound logical for those outside academia, but inside the bureaucratic world of universities they have fomented turbulence. Harvard and other once-stodgy institutions of higher education throughout the Americas are scrambling to cater to the heady influx of business school students who are turning their backs on solid futures with Fortune 500 companies to cast a longing eye on entrepreneurial adventures and the digital world. Students at business schools now spend their time--in and out of class--discussing business plans and dot-corn endeavors.

As the big-money business school degree is reshaped to carry its holders onto the frenzied frontier of tomorrow's workplace, the curricula are shifting. Stanford University courses now include Technology and Wages in the Global Economy; nearly a fifth of the 350 master's degree graduates from Stanford's business school in 1999 landed jobs with high-tech companies. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has introduced a new graduate business major, Managing Electronic Commerce. And the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's business school, MIT Sloan, has unveiled an Electronic Commerce and Marketing track. The Internet is so ingrained at Sloan, in fact, that students in the master's Class of 2001 must apply online for admission, making it the first U.S. business school with such a requirement.

Some of Latin America's universities are starting--or reinforcing--their links to the U.S. business schools on the cutting edge of Internet and entrepreneurial trends. Mexico's Instituto Panamericano de Alta Direction de Empresas (IPADE) has stepped up its student exchange conferences with the University old Instituto de Altos Estudios Empresariales, an appendage of the Austral University is graduating its second class. Established only in 1995, the MBA at Mexico's Monterrey Institute of Technology is already recognized as one of the region's top programs. Rather than just fashioning a generic, Spanish-speaking version of established graduate programs in the United States, the founders of Tec's Graduate School of Business Administration and Leadership (EGADE) focus the curriculum on the business realities of Latin America.

"What we've developed at EGADE is an expertise in doing business in Mexico and Latin America," says Tec's dean, Jaime Alonso Gomez. "Our professors travel the entire continent, and they understand how business really gets done in Latin America."

Second-year student Edison Argotti agrees. "I came here because I wanted the best preparation for working in Latin America," says the Ecuadoran student, who plans to work as a portfolio investor after finishing his degree. "Not only do the professors know the region, but our classes involve students from Brazil, Colombia, Argentina. So while we study here, were already making contacts with people with whom we can later do business."

Most of those contacts will never be personal. That's because the school takes technology beyond theory. Many of the international students taking Argotti's classes have never even been to the northern Mexican city where the school is located. Only about 800 of the business school's graduate students are in Monterrey; more than 6,000 others take classes via satellite hookup from all across Latin America.

In fact, given the option of satellite courses, many Tec students prefer them to traditional classroom studies, both for their more efficient use of time and because they allow interaction--albeit online or via two-way voice links--with students from around the region. The satellite program is the largest of its kind in Latin America and one of the largest in the world. Last year, Tec also launched a master's degree in e-commerce. In a telling sign of the business times, enrollment in that program has more than doubled in each of the three semesters, from 70 students initially to more than 300 today.

Old-fashioned ethics. At Argentina's Instituto de Altos Estudios Empresariales, Program Director Alejandro Carrera says the new business arena will be more complicated than that of the past. "We understand the New Economy to mean not just a new type of company but a new type of executive, with a range of skills that goes far beyond those needed 20 to 30 years ago," he says.

Nevertheless, not everything taught at the Buenos Aires-based university is as new as the handsome campus--with its tended lawns, stately eucalyptus trees and modern buildings housing the latest technology--built with semesters, from 70 students initially to more than 300 today. Old-fashioned ethics. At Argentina's Instituto de Altos Estudios Ernipresariales, Program Director Alejandro Carrera says the new business arena will be more complicated than that of the past. "We' understand the New Economy to mean not just a new type of company, but a new type of executive, with a range of skills that goes far beyond those needed 20 to 30 years ago," he says.

Nevertheless, not everything taught at the Buenos Aires based university is as new as the handsome campus--with its tended lawns, stately eucalyptus trees and modern buildings housing the latest technology--built with the support of Argentine magnate Gregorio Perez Companc. The school still underscores, Carrera says, the old-fashioned concept that who we are and how we treat others still counts, no matter how virtual the world becomes.

"We aim to give our students a solid humanistic grounding," he says.

As the business school community throughout the hemisphere rearranges itself, the long-time rivalry between highly coveted U.S. degrees and sometimes lesser-valued Latin American degrees could also see realignment.

The career clout of a U.S. degree is part of what took Telefonica's new Miami hire Laureano--the first in his family to attend graduate school or to study stateside--to Harvard. "It's the No. 1 brand name, especially in Latin America. Many Latin American government officials are educated at Harvard. In terms of perception, the quality difference is huge:' he says.

However, employers are now hinting that the diploma gap has narrowed. 'The U.S. master's of business administration is a plus because you know [the graduates] will be bilingual, and sometimes trilingual:' says Alfonso Castillo, staffing manager for Hewlett-Packard Latin America. "But [graduates from Latin American schools] with the same qualifications have the same chances of being hired at HP."
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Author:Krishock, Dan
Publication:Latin Trade
Date:Aug 1, 2000
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