Geopolitics

From The Barracks To Business School: Latin American Generals Line Up For MBA's

Throughout Latin American, more and more top military posts are being filled with business school graduates. In some cases, promotions are only available to soldiers with advanced degrees, particularly MBAs.

General Guillermo Ramírez Chovar at a press conference following the Chilean earthquake in 2010.
General Guillermo Ramírez Chovar at a press conference following the Chilean earthquake in 2010.
Mariana Osorio and Carlos Tromben



SANTIAGO -- When then-Chilean President Michelle Bachelet decided to deploy troops to affected areas in the aftermath of the earthquake on Feb. 27, 2010, many Chileans were surprised by what they saw. The generals in charge of the operation spoke gently. Unlike their predecessors in the 1970s and 80s, they didn't threaten anyone with an "iron fist."

Instead, they seemed more like cool, empathetic managers educated in the finest business schools. For Guillermo Ramírez Chovar, the general who managed to control the tense post-disaster situation in the cities of Concepcion and Talcahuano, that is actually the case.

In addition to his military education, Ramírez Chovar completed a course in industrial relations and personnel administration at ICARE, a prestigious private business institute in Chile. He also holds a master's in human resources management from the Universidad Gabriela Mistral.

"Little by little, a growing portion of the top-ranked officials in the armed forces have advanced degrees," says Gerardo Vidal, PhD in political science and sociology. "In some cases, an advanced degree is a prerequisite for promotion."

From the perspective of Latin American business schools, this trend has opened up possibilities for a number of joint programs with military institutions. Gen. Júlio César de Arruda of Brazil participated in an MBA program at the Fundación Getúlio Vargas (FGV), a private Brazilian business school. The 360-hour program is now part of the Brazilian army's yearlong course in politics, strategy and higher administration, which is designed for colonels being promoted to general.

Of the topics covered in the classroom, Gen. De Arruda stressed the importance of large-scale military project management, budgets, personnel management and information technology law. He thinks the course is important for high-ranking officials, helping them better manage projects and people. "It opens horizons and helps them manage more proficiently," he says.

The Chilean army and the business school at the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez do something similar. "The program selects a group of 20 officials and superior officers, and it is oriented toward reinforcing leadership and decision-making in complex situations," says Vidal, the program's academic director. "The officials attend classes at the university and are integrated with civilian students. The exchange of knowledge, cultures and experiences is very enriching."

Learning to negotiate

But if the military is turning more and more towards executive education, there are also many civilian would-be executives who would like to learn military management techniques. About 90 MBA students at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Management travel twice a year to Quantico, a training camp in Virginia, where officials in the American infantry are educated. In exchange, the military sends some of its members to the MBA program. The idea came about in 2001, when a group of MBA students got together to discuss military leadership.

One of the most important lessons to learn from the military, according to Preston Cline, the associate director of Wharton Leadership Ventures, is its strong predisposition towards action. "Many of our civilian students have a consulting background, and they are very good at consensus building, which can slow down the decision making process. The marines, in contrast, are taught to decide and act quickly. The MBA students are often surprised when they are asked to make a decision with only 70% of the information," he says.

But the influence of the military on management is long-standing. For example, both business and military use the same vocabulary to refer to similar actions. Strategy, tactics, operations, performance reports, survival, logistics, and campaigns are only some of the words that the two industries share.

According to Francisco López, dean of administration at the Universidad Eafit de Medellín in Colombia, a career in management is a logical follow up to military service.

He recalls how the first executives in Colombia, during the industrial development in the 1920s, were former generals from the Thousand Days' War (1899-1902). "They had a background that allowed them to run a factory. If they had been leading whole battalions, why couldn't they manage a group of administrators in the textile industry?," López quips. "The army works with a very strong concept of work and discipline as well as a concept of power, obedience and subordination."

Through executive education, however, today's military is looking for something very different than fighting skills. Gen. De Arruda sums up his MBA experience this way: "You learn to sit down at a table and negotiate."

Read more from América Economía in Spanish

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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