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There is an air of wilderness tamed about the campus of the Fundação Dom Cabral, high in the hilly uplands of Minas Gerais state, Brazil. Its post-modern buildings sit at the edge of a man-made lake, in a valley flooded to drive a hydro-electric generating station built by a nearby gold miner. The surrounding hills are almost solid iron ore – one open-cast mine can be seen, and its explosions heard, across the valley – keeping vegetation scrubby (Minas Gerais means, approximately, “mines of all kinds”).

The Fundação Dom Cabral was created in 1976, when it was spun off from the Pontifícia Universidade Católica of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, the state capital about half an hour down the road. But its unusual business model and subsequent growth date from the 1990s, when, says Dalton Penedo Sardenberg, head of business partnerships, Brazilian entrepreneurs were facing “the common enemy of market liberalisation”.

Brazilian businesses had been cosseted throughout the country’s “economic miracle”, the rapid post-war industrialisation that delivered what today would be called Chinese rates of growth in the 1960s and 1970s. But, from the early 1990s, trade barriers were torn down, forcing many companies to make radical changes in order to survive.

That was when a group of business leaders got together with the FDC to create a forum for discussion that quickly developed into the CTE, or Centre for Business Technology – the first of the FDC’s trademark business partnerships. The chief executives and senior directors of about 25 big companies meet in summits to discuss the challenges facing them.

“The big emphasis has always been on generating knowledge that could be applied to those companies and to the market as a whole,” says Mr Sardenberg.

The CTE still operates, but the challenges facing companies have changed and a new version is in preparation for launch this year. However, the idea of partnership and applied knowledge remains fundamental to everything the FDC does – whether it be “off-the-shelf” open courses or tailor-made courses for individual companies.

The FDC does not offer ordinary post-graduate MBA courses. It does have post-graduate specialisation and Executive MBA programmes, but its speciality is tailor-made, highly focused courses often involving immersion at the FDC or at a site in another Brazilian city for middle- to top-level management. Courses are sold to companies, not to individuals, and aim to deliver results in the form of programmes to address their targets or concerns.

One programme that typifies this approach is known as PAEX, or Partners for Excellence. Middle- to senior-level management of medium-sized, non-competing companies take part in tailor-made courses designed to address shared management challenges. Courses typically total 400 hours spread over a year, and include a period in which the FDC’s teachers visit participating companies to help implement the solutions developed over the year.

This appears to take the FDC into the realm of consultancy rather than teaching. But Mozart Pereira dos Santos, one of the FDC’s directors, is quick to point out the difference: “We aim to provide permanent development for company executives, rather than deliver the kind of specific solutions that consultants offer.”

The FDC will sell your company a single, tailor-made lecture, if you want. More commonly it will sell short, customised courses. Some 22,472 executives were trained during 2007. Of 47,821 teaching hours, about half (23,300 hours) were given in customised courses. Partnerships – the CTE, PAEX and PDA, a programme for shareholder development aimed at family-owned companies – took up 9,076 hours. Post-graduate specialisation and Executive MBA courses, in areas such as logistics, finances and marketing, took up a bit more than a quarter (13,228), and other open courses, 2,217.

The FDC is quickly building a reputation internationally and has alliances with Insead of France, the Kellogg School of Management of the US and the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, Canada. It regularly attracts high-profile visiting professors and speakers – Hank Paulson, the US Treasury secretary was one speaker last year.

The school recently embarked on a development strategy based on three priorities. First is internationalisation. “Companies are increasingly international and if we don’t become a global supplier we will end up being left behind,” says Elson Valim Ferreira, director. The FDC has many multinational clients in Brazil and is pitching courses in other countries.

The second priority is generation of knowledge. The FCC already has a huge database of case studies. Now it is building a “centre for the development of management knowledge” – one of five new buildings currently planned on the campus, in addition to a new office just opened in São Paulo. Third, is development of the FDC’s own organisation to meet new global challenges: a stronger focus on hiring from overseas, especially from developed countries and from Brazil’s developing market peers in Russia, India and China.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

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