June 14, 2016Brown University

The Danger in Calling a Dog a Cat; Ricardo Brandao on Seeing Clearly through IE Brown’s Multiple Lenses

We sat down (virtually) with Ricardo Brandao, head of risk management at Unitel in Angola. A land of contradictions, Angola’s population is both the poorest and richest in the world. Imagine managing risk in that environment! Find out how IE Brown’s liberal arts-infused MBA curriculum gave Ricardo a new set of lenses to navigate these uncharted socioeconomic conditions.


Let’s start at the beginning, why did you choose IE Brown?

I had been a manager for some years before entering IE Brown. My issues with management were never technology-related. In fact, senior managers told me that I had too technical of an approach. They told me to think less about the technology and more about the customer, background and team. I chose IE Brown because it offered a framework for gaining business clarity beyond my area of expertise, and in developing markets that follow very different rules.

IE Brown includes courses that you wouldn’t typically find in an Executive MBA program. How did this non-traditional coursework impact your capacity to lead business initiatives?

Ethnographic Research Methods: We started the program with this course on anthropology where we were tasked with observing how people behave in certain circumstances. You’d think that an executive program would train professionals to take over, not passively observe. Yet the experience reframed my professional mindset. I had to dig deeper to understand people’s motivations and compare what they say to what they actually do. It underscored the need for leaders who are decisive based on a superior attentiveness to the often subtle but critical dynamics at play.

This course assignment helped me discover my own sensitivity to sociological and psychological currents that I didn’t know I had. These soft skills proved critical in my new role in risk management. I discovered that once you expand your analytical perspective, you can do it again and again.

Behavioral Fitness: This course reinforced the critical thinking approach that we cultivated in the anthropology course. It taught us to question our own preconceptions that blind us from seeing what is actually there. Once again, this mindfulness and relentless questioning proved critical to my success in risk management. In my field we think about very small equations, money, probabilities... to determine risk. These inputs are crucial, but in the end, we all know that the world is a bit more complicated than that. As long as you have emotions, perceptions, cultural predispositions, stats from hard sciences alone will never accurately predict outcomes.

I carry this critical orientation into my position as a manager. I continuously tell my team to question my opinions to open up a space for discussion. Despite HR’s pushback, I make a point of hiring based on mindset not credentials. If you build a predictable team, you’ll wind up with predictable conclusions. Everyone will think they’re doing the right thing but in the end that sense of righteousness comes from homogeneity not from life experiences that bring an array of perspectives to problem-solving.

Political Economy of Emerging Markets: The courses that focused on emerging markets gave me the tools to gain greater insight into markets that don’t follow the same rules as developed markets. In Angola, there is a tremendous amount of media about social problems like disease, unemployment… that are then amplified by social media. It’s easy to get caught up in the hysteria. But with the insights I’ve gleaned from the IE Brown Political Economy coursework, I’ve become a much savvier consumer of news and the biases that drive it. We conduct our own interviews and gather our own information. We factor in the impact of social networks and informal sectors to determine outcomes. We study the history, delve into social movements, and investigate the way national policy is developed.

You can’t navigate this with just financials. You need another set of lenses that you only have access to from another school of thought. You need to understand the particulars of every country to know what’s really going on. Part of my job is to gauge political and market stability in Angola. If I don’t get it right, then a part of Untiel’s business may be influenced to make wrong decisions.

Any final thoughts?

A liberal arts infused curriculum that factors in history, anthropology, political economy and behavioral fitness, forges a framework for questioning dominant assumptions and minimizing the discrepancy between theory and reality. As the proverb goes, you can call a cat a dog but it won’t change its nature. Armed with a critical mindset cultivated at IE Brown, I now have greater confidence in my ability to, more often than not, get the animal right.


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