Feeling the Beat of Beautiful Brazil - Report on Rio Forum

Harvey Kipper reports on his recent experiences
and the Wharton Global Alumni Forum at the Copacabana Palace
and in visiting spectacular sites in and near Rio de Janeiro


By Harvey Kipper

In December 1992, I had the opportunity to visit Brazil - for three hours. Crossing the border from Argentina, I arrived in Fos do Iguaçu, site of mighty Iguaçu Falls. The experience was thrilling, and ever since then I wanted to go back to Brazil.

When I was apprised by the Wharton Club of DC of the Global Alumni Forum in Rio de Janeiro in August 2006, I knew that I had to attend. I immediately contacted the organizer in Brazil, Mr. Odemiro Fonseca, WG'75, who was very forthcoming and helpful. Since the venue was the Copacabana Palace Hotel, I decided to stay there.

Departing Miami on Monday, 7 August, I sat next to an oilman from Houston. He spoke to me at length about drilling off the coast of Brazil. He confirmed what His Excellency, Roberto Abdenur, the Ambassador of Brazil, had stated during a Wharton Club of DC visit to the Embassy of Brazil in July, that Brazil was the leader in deep-sea oil drilling technology.

Arriving in Rio on Tuesday morning, 8 August, after a nice flight from Miami, I felt well-rested though I had flown all night. Almost immediately after disembarking from the aircraft I saw a soccer game in progress near the tarmac, confirming once more a remark of Ambassador Abdenur. Soccer, he said, was played everywhere in Brazil, its popularity perhaps due to the hope that it gave the poor to escape their circumstances. The taxi ride into Rio was a quick forty-five minutes.

Since my room at the Copacabana Palace was not yet ready I decided to tour. The hotel arranged a driver, and I was off. First stop: Corcovado, site of the statue of Christ the Redeemer. After wending our way around steep Corcovado Mountain, we arrived at the base of a truly impressive statue of Christ, a towering 90 meters tall. From Corcovado the views of Rio were stunning.

After approximately 90 minutes, we left Corcovado for Sugar Loaf Mountain. The driver again dropped me off at the entrance, and I proceeded to the cable car. This was a two-step process. The first stop was on a mountain with spectacular views of Rio, comparable to those from Corcovado.

The second leg by cable car was to the top of Sugar Loaf itself. At this altitude the view of Rio was even more encompassing and stunning. Spread below as far as the eye could see was a scene that was breathtaking, a lovely tapestry woven of shades of green, brown, and blue. Verdant mountains jutted out of the bay. Mile after mile of sandy beaches unfurled like golden ribbons. Azure skies touched turquoise waters. Hawks wheeled, diving out of sight then suddenly reappearing. The weather was perfect - not a cloud in the sky. The temperature was a warm 30 degrees Celsius (about 86 degrees F.), the humidity low. Was this winter?

Later that day, I returned to Copacabana and checked into the hotel. My suite afforded wonderful views of the pool and the beach. I just had to go outside before it became dark to take a stroll along the ocean. That night I slept contentedly.

The next day, Wednesday, 9 August, I decided to explore Rio on foot. Proceeding south from Copacabana, I arrived at a Brazilian Army Fort and toured its perimeter. From there I headed to Ipanema (pictured at the left), where lofty mountains appeared not far from the shore. Onwards I strode to the Botanical Garden and its stately palm trees, wide variety of orchids, insectivorous plants, and trees bearing jack fruit.

Continuing my stroll brought me to the attractive suburb of Botafogo. From there I proceeded by sleek and modern subway to downtown Rio, impressive with its combination of classical and modern architecture. Everywhere I went, the Brazilian people I encountered were friendly and helpful, patiently taking time to assist me in finding my way.

On Thursday, 10 August, the seminars were to begin at 5:00 PM. That allowed me the morning and part of the afternoon to explore Rio. I again took the subway downtown, walked to the docks, and boarded the ferry to Niteroi, a neighboring city. The trip took only twenty minutes, and the views of Guanabara Bay were incredible, a recapitulation at sea level of those that I had experienced earlier from the heights of Corcovado and Sugar Loaf. I soon re-crossed the bay and arrived in downtown Rio. There I admired the churches, museums, and other historic buildings before returning by subway to Copacabana.

Arriving at the hotel, I attended the opening seminar on Mexican Companies in Latin America. The moderator and three speakers were informative and passionate about their work.

The remainder of the evening was devoted to good cheer: An Opening Forum Cocktail with live Brazilian pop music; an Opening Forum Ceremony, led by Mr. Robert Mangels, WG'75, and Professor Patrick Harker, Dean of the Wharton School; an Opening Forum Dinner, a splendid buffet, during which I met several very personable Wharton and Penn Office employees from Philadelphia and New York; and an outstanding performance of Brazilian jazz.

Friday, 11 August, was devoted to official events. Beginning at 9:00 AM, Mr. Mangels and Dean Harker opened the Forum Plenary Session and discussed “The State of the Wharton School.” Mr. Mangels introduced the Keynote Speaker, Mr. Henrique Meirelles, Governor of the Central Bank of Brazil. Mr. Meirelles presented a detailed analysis of Brazil's economy, past and present. He discussed the challenges facing Brazil and the initiatives that had been implemented to improve its economic performance.

Other outstanding presenters included Mr. Arminio Fraga Neto of Gavea Investimentos, Ms. Mary O'Grady, an Editorial Board Member of The Wall Street Journal, Professor Jitendra Singh of the Wharton School, and Mr. Roberto Civita of Editora Abril. They addressed diverse topics including Brazil's overall financial situation, the significance of economic growth, the differing economic strategies pursued by developing countries, and the importance of an uncensored press. I learned a great deal by attending these lectures as well as the question and answer sessions that followed all of them.

The lunch and dinner this final day were sumptuous affairs. The food was plentiful and its quality outstanding. During these meals I had an opportunity to meet people from all over the world: From Brazil, of course, but also from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, and the United States. In fact, 30% of the approximately 450 attendees were from outside Brazil.

The evening ended with a terrific dance performance in which everyone was invited to participate. I certainly did, and had a wonderful time.

The entire Forum was superb from its start to its conclusion. Forum Chairman Fonseca and his committee did an excellent job arranging for excellent speakers, stimulating substantive sessions, and making needed arrangements at the impressive venue, receptions, and special events. Mr. Fonseca is Co-founder and Partner, Viena Rio Restaurants in Rio, and he used his hospitality background to advantage in providing a warm and welcoming invitation before the event and atmosphere at all phases of the Forum for all delegates, including me.

Would I return to Rio?
Yes, in a heartbeat.
Would I attend another Wharton Global Alumni Forum elsewhere in the world?
The answer is, “Absolutely!”

Copyright 2006, Harvey Kipper. All Rights Reserved.

About the Author
Harvey Kipper graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Pennsylvania in 1976 with a BA in International Relations. He has a strong interest in foreign affairs, cultures, languages, and travel. He has studied 10 languages and visited 50 countries.

Harvey greatly enjoys art, history, reading, science, and writing. He is a member of American Mensa and has contributed many articles on diverse topics to his local chapter, Metropolitan Washington Mensa.

He is employed by the United States Navy. His personal e-mail address is balomix@yahoo.com and his home phone number is (703)920-4097.