Ferris State Alumni Association
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Brazil is the world’s seventh largest economy and one of the so-called “BRIC” countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), fast-growing economies that many people see as the key to future global economic expansion. Despite such vitality — or perhaps because of it — these countries often look outward for business expertise on both the micro and macro levels. One Ferris alumna recently helped provide that expertise.
Last fall, Jamie Shafer (B’03) was one of 12 employees of Ernst & Young who took part in America’s Corporate Responsibility Fellows Program, a collaboration between Ernst & Young and Endeavor, a non-profit organization whose goal is to foster entrepreneurship in emerging markets. Schafer traveled to Sao Paulo to work as a non- paid volunteer with Diagnostika, a surgical pathology laboratory. She explains that due to Brazil’s strong growth, more people in the private sector are able to afford health care. Diagnostika has been trying to keep pace.
“They’re busy serving their hospitals and their clients, but the business side was being managed with just a computer spreadsheet, and it wasn’t meeting their needs,” says Schafer. “So they wanted to implement an ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] system. An ERP helps handle financial accounting, but it can also manage things like sales, accounts receivable, accounts payable, inventory and customer relationships. I work for Ernst & Young as senior manager in IT risk advisory and have been involved with ERP implementations, so my skill set matched Diagnosticka’s needs.”
The problem of too-rapid growth is one that many American businesspeople wouldn’t mind having, but the challenge of supporting good ideas with the right business model and tools is common to entrepreneurs in both developed and developing countries.
“They have these fantastic ideas, and they’re able to get people who can help them in turning a concept into a reality,” says Shafer of her experience. “They want to grow the business, do research and development, and focus on what’s next, but they still have to run the business. I think that’s true even for entrepreneurs here in the United States. You have a great idea and you just want to go execute; you’re not thinking, ‘Oh yeah. I’ve got to hire some people, they’ve got to go through training, and I’ve got to pay the bills.’”
During her seven weeks in Sao Paulo, Schafer learned the importance that Brazilians place on individual relationships. She was included in dinner invitations by doctors at Diagnostika, although most of her work with the company had to do with the IT and finance employees. And, even though she was matched up with the company for her tech skills, she found that Diagnostika also drew upon her general business knowledge.
“I would give the director a status update every week and he would ask a question about HR policy or something else,” says Schafer. “I saw that they really valued that broader knowledge. I felt like the work I was doing there had a little weightier purpose.”
Shafer’s experience points to the importance of knowledge workers in a whole range of businesses that are increasingly dependent upon technology not only for growth but survival.
“Ferris was a fantastic place for me to start some of the things I’m doing,” says the graduate of dual Accounting and Computer Information Systems majors. “Who knew it would have led me to work for such a great company and allowed me to give back in this way?”
More information about Endeavor is available at endeavor.org. For more about Ernst & Young and its many programs, visit ey.com.