Quick: Name three South Korean brands. Samsung? Hyundai? LG? Good. Now name a couple of well-known brand names from India. Tata? Mahindra? Got it. And Chinese brands? A no-brainer for anyone who has a Lenovo laptop or a Haier refrigerator.
But you’ll struggle if you’re asked about brands from Brazil. Despite the country’s place in the BRIC acronym for fast-track economies, Brazil, Inc. is largely unknown outside of South America.
Yes, it’s true that people all over the world fly on Embraer’s jets. Most of us are touched, however indirectly, by the iron ore, nickel, copper and coal mined worldwide by Vale. Some of us wear Havaianas’ playful summer footwear; others enjoy the global proliferation of beverage brands that have accompanied Anheuser-Busch InBev’s international growth. Yet the brands behind many of Brazil’s other products remain largely anonymous.
This anonymity is just one part of a larger problem for Brazil’s business leaders and economic policy makers. Brazil is now the world’s seventh-largest economy, and it accounts for 43 percent of Latin America’s aggregate gross domestic product. Yet only eight Brazilian multinationals are in the Fortune Global 500.
And although executives at Brazilian companies understand that globalization has become an imperative—three-quarters of those companies surveyed by the Accenture Institute of High Performance say global expansion will be key to their growth in the next three to five years—many are struggling to act on those ambitions. In the same survey, those companies admit to being less prepared than they should be for a truly international future.
But that may be about to change. Accenture’s research reveals big differences between the approaches taken by Brazil’s successful “globalizers” and those taken by others that are less successfully trying to play on the international stage. Indeed, the findings give every reason to believe that Brazil’s leading companies may soon become household names around the world (see Sidebar 1).
To date, Brazil’s leading companies have in fact been able to leverage their established positions at home to help them scale abroad. They have benefited from the ability to capitalize on economies of scale, to accumulate experience, and even to subsidize foreign ventures from domestic coffers.
And as they continue to transform their organizations into international players on a par with the Samsungs and Lenovos of the world, their executive teams are eagerly focused on finding ways to build on these initial successes.
In the future, however, this may become increasingly difficult to achieve—starting with their ability to raise capital for international expansion. In April, the BNDES, Brazil’s national development bank, announced that it would abandon its policy of helping create “national champions” through favorable loan terms.
The challenge transcends simple rebranding strategies and splashy export campaigns. Despite the bold global footprints of companies such as Embraer, Vale, Petrobras and a handful of others, Brazilian businesses are internationalizing more slowly than their counterparts elsewhere. At the same time, competition from Asian companies in particular, both at home and abroad, will become more and more intense.
To be successful, Brazilian companies need to raise their levels of competitiveness to international standards. For many, this will require them to reach outside their home markets to access the needed technologies, capabilities and resources. And increasingly, they will need to seek these opportunities abroad before having the chance to reach the scale that today’s Brazilian global giants have attained. Rather than building scale before going global, many local companies may find themselves needing to go global as a prerequisite to attaining scale and competitiveness.
In the meantime, Brazil’s domestic market is attracting increasing competition, as reflected in the investments of foreign companies. Money has been pouring into the country: In 2012, foreign direct investment in Brazil was 45 percent higher than in 2008, in sharp contrast with a 26 percent decline at the global level during the same period. Crucially, many of the companies already entering Brazil are global enterprises with real scale and efficiency. They come with no shortage of competitive strengths, including low-cost business models, innovation expertise, technological prowess and global brands (see Sidebar 2).
Moreover, Asian and Brazilian companies are headed for a collision in tomorrow’s most lucrative markets. Today, Brazil’s competencies complement the cost-based strengths of Asian competitors (see
chart). But in only three years, the picture may be very different. By their own admission (and in cases such as China and Malaysia, under the guidance of their growth-minded governments), many Asian companies are racing up the value chain, moving directly toward capabilities like higher-quality talent and innovation—capabilities that Brazilian companies identify as their most competitive globally.
Many Chinese companies, for example, are on a publicly stated drive to move from lower-cost offerings toward more sophisticated, knowledge-based products and services, with the government in full support. Brazilian companies and policy makers have yet to signal a similar intent for change.
This dramatic transformation of the competitive landscape provides a burning platform for change. It is leading progressive Brazilian companies to look beyond yesterday’s models of success, and to scan the global horizon for tomorrow’s opportunities.
Much of the challenge begins at home, where significant obstacles exist within the domestic economy that have long compromised the country’s global competitiveness and impeded the internationalization of Brazilian companies. None of these challenges is lost on its policy makers. The federal government has changed its fiscal rules to allow for greater public investment to improve the country’s long-term competitiveness and upgrade the business landscape and give the country a truly world-class infrastructure. This is critical to unlocking the flow of goods and services in and out of the country.
At the same time, there are serious efforts under way to free up the nation’s markets. The Plano Brasil Maior (Greater Brazil Plan), for example, was designed to improve the competitiveness of local industry as foreign competition (particularly from China) intensifies. The plan addresses systemic impediments to Brazilian companies and multinationals with operations in Brazil by reducing company tax burdens, increasing business access to capital and enforcing intellectual property rights. These improvements are aimed not only at building the domestic economy, but also at making Brazilian companies truly competitive internationally.
Of course, this summer’s demonstrations and street protests in Brazil have highlighted society’s impatience in achieving such improvements in infrastructure and institutions. And in doing so, they have succeeded in adding urgency to the efforts of policy makers.
But the nation’s federal and state governments can’t be expected to carry the burden of these critical reforms on their own. Indeed, the large-scale, long-term nature of these efforts should not be a reason for businesses to sit on their hands, waiting for the improvements to kick in. Accenture’s research shows that there is much more that Brazilian businesses can do to build their competitiveness globally—actions that will make them stronger at home as well. So what does that mean in practice?
To be sure, there is no shortage of role models for Brazil’s would-be globalizers. Vale, for instance, is the world’s largest producer of iron ore and the second-largest mining corporation. Itaú Unibanco is Latin America’s largest bank and one of the world’s biggest, active in 20 countries throughout the Americas, Asia and Europe. And JBS is the world’s leading producer of animal protein—particularly beef—with production and processing plants in Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Australia, the United States, Uruguay, Paraguay, Mexico, China and Russia.
There is a big difference, however, between planning to push into export markets—a traditional interpretation of “globalization”—and understanding what that really means. Brazil’s truly successful international companies get the difference. They are mastering critical capabilities, such as having the flexibility to mobilize people across geographies, move capital around the organization, and share ideas and best practices.
Here are three specific ways in which they are achieving international success.
1. Search out and act on the best ideas by building innovation networks to tap into capital and talent around the world.
This capability is especially important to improving competitiveness and differentiating Brazilian multinationals as their global rivals climb the value chain.
The Brazilian globalizers that succeed are wise to the need for mobility of people, capital and ideas within any organization that hopes to innovate effectively. Our research found that while both they and their less successful peers recognize the importance of easily mobilizing staff across geographies, they were nearly four times as likely as the latter group to invest enough time, money and management attention in the issue. There were gaps, too, between successful and less successful Brazilian globalizers’ initiatives to move capital and best practices around their organizations.
Furthermore, the successful companies have gained an edge by investing in the efficient sharing of data through integrated IT infrastructures. They know it is essential to nurture the organization’s “nervous system” in this way, allowing information, ideas, people, processes and structures to interact and operate effectively across the global organization. At the same time, the exemplars are more than twice as likely as their less successful competitors to assertively explore analytical skills and tools.
Take, for example, Braskem. This leading multinational in the thermoplastic and petrochemical products sector is pushing far and fast with its “open innovation” strategy, actively inviting input from stakeholders around the world, including staff, suppliers and customers. At the core of that strategy is the Braskem Innovation Program—essentially a global database of ideas accessible to all those involved. Partnerships with research centers and universities, as well as scholarships for doctoral and master’s degree students, are important elements of the program. The company also has its own innovation and technology centers, one in Triunfo (Brazil) and another in Pittsburgh (United States).
The results of this innovation push are impressive. The Brazilian company, founded in 2002, has filed for more than 420 patents, and some 12 percent of its revenue comes from products developed in the last three years.
Especially noteworthy: Braskem’s Green PE, the world’s first internationally certified polyethylene made of sugarcane ethanol. Production of Green PE generates far less carbon dioxide than does the manufacturing of conventional polyethylene. The new plastic has been a hit worldwide; it has found use in everything from packages for Carolina Herrera perfumes to seats in the Amsterdam ArenA stadium. In addition, the company has linked up with Novozymes, a Danish company and industrial biotechnology leader, to develop large-scale production of Green PP (polypropylene).
2. Understand where and how to improve performance and measure success by investing in new methods, such as analytics solutions.
Brazil’s successful globalizers have proven that they can invest effectively in core methods and systems. For instance, beverages giant Anheuser-Busch InBev implemented an analytics program at its plants to deliver uniform processes and measurable standards for operations, quality, safety and the environment. This optimization process has enabled the company—which is perhaps better known by its brands, including Brahma, Budweiser and Stella Artois—to achieve performance goals ahead of schedule, such as a 30 percent reduction per unit of production in water use worldwide between 2007 and 2012.
Separately, Itaú Unibanco is integrating all of its data, systems and methodologies under one analytics platform, creating more timely and useful information for decision makers and improving the company’s credit decision-making processes.
Companies that are internationalizing as successfully as Itaú and AB InBev know what it takes to do so. For example, our survey found that Brazil’s leading globalizers consider performance management critical to their international expansion over the next three years, and that they are nearly twice as likely as their less successful competitors to devote adequate effort and resources to building that capacity.
3. Cultivate the best corporate cultures by fostering a global mindset among the workforce, including current and future leaders.
This is where Brazilian companies seem to struggle most. Although Accenture’s study found that four out of five Brazilian executives had no doubts about the need to establish and support consistent corporate values across the global organization, in other research, a majority admitted that cross-border difficulties—specifically cultural and language barriers—have hampered their overseas expansion efforts.
The facts about those barriers are not pretty. Brazil ranks as one of the 10 worst countries for proficiency in business English. Moreover, its businesspeople score poorly compared with their counterparts in other countries for “global mindset”—a problem plaguing not only leadership teams but also the employees whose roles already span multiple countries.
Some Brazilian companies are working hard to remedy such defects. Votorantim Industrial realized it had to manage the cultural differences between its executives in different countries or risk derailing its global expansion. To strengthen and unify the company’s culture, the industrial giant rolled out a series of initiatives, including developing a global management beliefs system. This involved training leaders and their teams in the company’s global principles and values; training suppliers in Votorantim’s values; and launching a competition to share stories that show the company’s beliefs in action. The initiative seems to be paying off: In a recent survey by the company, nearly 90 percent of employees said that they put the beliefs into practice at work.
In truth, most Brazilian companies won’t be able to follow those globalization exemplars next month or even next year; the changes required go much deeper than any 90-day fix-it project. It will also take time for the government to dismantle some of the barriers that currently thwart Brazilian businesses.
But the nation’s executives must not wait. Their vibrant enterprises have the innate ability to supply, partner and compete with the world’s best companies, both at home and abroad. There is too much to be gained from mastering what’s needed to globalize successfully—and far too much to lose by not doing so.
For further reading
"Are You Ready? Keeping Pace With Consumer Demand for Technology in Brazil," Accenture 2011
"Brazil on the move," Outlook 2010,No. 3
Sidebar 1 | About the research
In the second half of 2012, the Accenture Institute for High Performance conducted extensive research to improve understanding of the dynamics, behaviors and priorities of Brazilian companies as they look for new sources of growth in international markets.
The objective was to determine their capabilities for going global, learn how they prioritize their investments for international growth, and distinguish between the approaches of successful and less successful companies—the former defined as those whose revenues and profits in international markets have developed in line with or faster than expectations over the last three years.
We interviewed executives at more than 100 international and aspiring Brazilian multinationals, across industries ranging from automotive and industrial equipment to financial services and retail. The findings of this research can be found in “Brazil Unleashed: Lessons in building world-class international operations,” Accenture 2013. (Back to story)
Sidebar 2 | Stranger danger?
It wasn’t long ago that foreign direct investment in Brazil was almost exclusively about heavy industry and natural resources—the $3 billion stake taken by Sinochem in Brazil’s promising deepwater oil fields, for example. These days, FDI in the country is about a much wider range of industry sectors, from high tech to consumer goods, from toys to fashion. Here are a few snapshots of what’s happening.
The Carlyle Group, a US private equity firm, recently bought into Ri Happy, a Brazilian toy-shop chain, and now controls 85 percent of the company.
In cosmetics, French luxury goods maker LVMH expanded its Sephora business by opening its first store in São Paulo in July 2012; that followed its 2010 acquisition of a 70 percent stake in the Brazilian online retailer Sack’s.
Le Pain Quotidien, a Belgian restaurant chain, opened its first store in Brazil in 2012. Starbucks Corp., the US coffee chain, plans to open more than a hundred stores over the next few years.
Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., the Chinese carmaker, will plow $300 million into a new assembly plant in Brazil. The plant is expected to have an annual capacity of 100,000 vehicles.
Network equipment giant Cisco will make sizable investments over the next three years in Brazil, including opening a Cisco innovation center in Rio de Janeiro; investing in a Brazil-focused ICT and digital economy venture capital fund; expanding local manufacturing; and forging intellectual property agreements and partnerships with Brazilian companies and entities to co-develop innovations. (Back to story)
About the authors
Armen Ovanessoff is a senior research fellow at the Accenture Institute for High Performance, where his focus is on macroeconomic, geopolitical and business trends in emerging economies. He is based in São Paulo.
Athena Peppes, a London-based thought leadership researcher, is a senior specialist at the Accenture Institute for High Performance.
Carolin Puppel, is a senior manager in Accenture Products. She is based in Rio de Janeiro.
Vasco Simoes is a São Paulo-based managing director in Accenture Products.