The (entire name) is silent

March 31, 2009 at 8:07 am | Posted in Music, School, Travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Not Rio

We arrived at our next destination, Salvador, and were, admittedly, a bit let down after the splendor and the beauty of Rio De Janeiro. There were no towering mountains, no majestic beaches. There were, though, malfunctioning air conditioners, little buggies in the beds, and the Brazilian equivalent of The Fast and The Furious taking place right outside our hotel window that night.

Such was our disappointment in this new venue, that for one full day we refused to speak its name, referring to it instead only as Not-rio. Take heart, though, and note the full usage of the name above, and here again – Salvador. For we ultimately came around, were wooed, won over and convinced that this was a fine city indeed. The initial impression, and our lodgings in particular, just left us a bit…down.

Ooba Gooba

Our business visit in Salvador was with the Brazilian construction giant turned conglomerate, Odebrecht Group. It’s name – odebrecht5b15dnative to Brazil, appearing German, pronounced…well, full disclosure, I’m still not quite sure. As a group, we mis-pronounced, misspoke, and mismanaged this proud company’s name in so many new and different ways that it was a wee bit embarrassing.

Nevertheless, I found them to be an impressive company indeed, possessing, in their history, a story that would make any American MBA student salivate upon hearing. Founded in 1944 by Norberto Oderbrecht, one of these titans of the mid-century that fabricated entire industries out of whole cloth with nothing but their bare hands and a good idea, the pride of the employees telling the tale was practically seeping from their very pores. As it should.

Existing primarily as a construction company for forty years before transforming into a holding company and embarking on a domestic spending spree, it is easy to admire the patience and planning of a company that was content with doing one thing, and one thing only, very well for almost half a century before making the leap into aggressive expansion.

dsc04762The presentation advanced and the slide moved on to an overall chronology of the company, and I found myself speechless. For this slide was not a mere time line of a company, but rather a portrait of a man’s will, spread across seven decades, dozens of countries, and millions of affected lives. To have done this thing, to have created this multi-billion dollar empire on your back– the satisfaction this man, Norberto Oderbrecht, must have, the ease with which his head must hit the pillow, and the excitement that must come when each day starts. Remarkable. Breathtaking.

Responsible now for the building of power plants, bridges, subways and stadiums, this is a company that is producing, on a daily basis, the cornerstones of the world. $18.3 Billion in 2009, from nothing in 1944, and still privately held. Epic.

The business-speak soon gave way to the requisite social-speak that was so prevalent among each of the companies that we visited. Talks of re-forestation, green processes and a walking tour through an actual nature sanctuary behind the company offices followed, with an almost unstoppable determination to prove to us that, yes, they cared about the environment.dsc04769

We found this type of thing at each company; I’m not sure if it’s a Brazilian cultural thing or a reaction to a bunch of MBA students thing, but there was a much more significant, and consistent, focus on cultural projects than I’ve ever seen at American companies (or Chinese ones, for that matter). It was a bit odd. Maybe because they’re on top of a rain forest and surrounded by poverty, two of the three holy trinity issues for American social wack-a-doos, they’ve developed an almost Pavlovian response to the arrival of pale skin. Yes we care about the earth and the poor! Let us show you.

One final observation, from the Q&A session when asked about the declining global economy. The high comedy of companies, both in person and every day at home in the WSJ, saying that they were “growing too fast” and that they’re “happy for the slowdown,” is getting to be a bit much. I mean, really? Really?

Overall, though, one of the best business visits that we’ve had. Inspiring.


A stop at the hotel, a quick drink, and back into the brink once more. A cab, cabs, actually, were summoned, a recommendation was obtained, and we were off. A snippet from the actual conversation with the Salvadorian (?) cab driver:

Cab Driver: I will drop you there. But if you go left down that hill, be careful, you will lose your pen-is. (said just like that, like pen is.)

Us: Uhhhhh. (silence)

Cab Driver: And you need your pen-is if you are going to stay in Salvador.

Us: Uhhhhh.


The restaurant. Goodness. Pronounced universally to be the best meal that we all had in Brazil, it was at this point that we finally cast off the shame of Not-rio and fully embraced the name of our new, temporary, home. It was here that I ate, for the first time in my life, an ostrich steak. Delicious, more like red meat than a poultry, and a fine complement to a Brazilian Jameson, which, by the by, bears a striking similarity to American Jameson. Thank heavens for small consistencies.

Dinner finished, the evening mayhaps over, we left the restaurant, turned the corner and found, to our astonishment, a reggae band. In an alley. With chairs and table sat up haphazardly around them and available for the resting of the feet, the soul, and the heart.

The crown jewel of Brazil, this fine evening. A letting loose. Good friends, great music, moderately acceptable beer. The cobblestones, the churches, the people. All of it right, none of it planned, reproducible or available, I think, once more. A unique lifetime experience, one of those rare moments that you recognize, while still in the actual moment, will never happen again.



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