"The unsual way that Fundação Dom Cabral is organized"


Didier Marlier

July 25, 2010

From Disruption to Engagement

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As you probably all know by now, the Fundação Dom Cabral is one of the world’s leading centre for executive and organizations development. In 2010, it was ranked 6th by the Financial Times (I am no great fan of such rankings; it is there for the record and those who need it;)

Since July 2009, I regularly join the Foundation for work in common. During my yearly appraisal with three members of the Board (a rather frank and direct two way feedback discussion as I like them;), I was seeking to understand the reasons for the Institute’s success. The determination and humility of its leaders (reminding of the “Good to Great” attributes) linked to its values and the quality of its clients and people were mentioned.

But Wagner Veloso, one of the three directors present, drew my attention on the very unusual way in which the Foundation combines elements of traditional organizations with free wheeling ones of organic communities[1].

At the top, sit three Presidents. They are the visible part of the iceberg to the outside world as well as the institutional link towards authorities, regulators, press, clients etc… The outside world needs stable reference points and contacts, so the Presidents tenure has been stable over the years. Interestingly, the Presidents embody, through their styles and characters, the unspoken values and culture of the Foundation: stability and respectability for one, the humanistic and people side for another and the creativity and charisma for the third. The stability around them has also kept potential politics to the minimum as they were clearly there to last.

Below them is a team of Directors: from a number of five a few years ago, they decided amongst themselves to reduce their group to three, meaning that two of them chose to go back to “the ranks”. Their tenure usually has a 3-5 year horizon in order to enable them to run mid-long term projects with enough serenity. However, it is made clear that they act as “primus inter pares” and that, once their mission is over they should normally rejoin their colleagues and let someone else be “invited” (the word “promoted” is banned) to take over their heavy responsibilities. The person invited is therefore given a chance to prove her leadership, organizational and managerial skills as well as influence the culture and strategy of the firm.

The support functions, due to the sharp level of specialization are also relatively stable although, it is my understanding that, should someone wish to grow and develop by changing department, their request is always taken serious and explored with an open mind.

The organic part comes from the way professors (delivering the courses) and project leaders (relationship managers) are organized… Contrary to most of the business schools I know (and despite their vehement protests and claims of the contrary), a project leader at Foundation Cabral has the total freedom to choose who they feel is the best fit for a given project. She has no pressure for hiring a full time faculty (whose salary is paid by the school) and may choose anyone from the outside… This is giving place to a healthy “Mercato” as in football, where visiting (self employed, who account for more than 80% of faculty in FDC) and full time faculty are encouraged to continuously develop their skills, edge and style, if they wish to be invited to teach on programs. It also ensures that the client gets the best team and not the one that will help the institution’s financial bottom line at best. The same goes for using or not the school’s dream campus: Project leaders are free to choose the right environment for their course and not kindly asked to support the heavy infrastructure created around the school (which I admit I am still struggling with: where is an executive education’s main value? Its fixed assets and infrastructure or its “daily moving assets” teaching and supporting every day?).

I do not know how much of this is relevant to your own organizations but I thought it might be thought provoking (and reassuring to see for once an academic organization ahead of the pack in terms of organization and leadership;)

On my way to a long non-stop series of workshops and engagement processes in Brazil, as well as a short and welcome ten days of break with my family. I will therefore let you all “off the hook” for this month of August and start again around mid-September (we are moving house upon our return…). Have a great week all!


[1] see posts of February 6th, 14th and 22nd


  1. Dimitri Boisdet

    Great example! Although for different reasons, but always aimed at excellency, it reminds me a college my brother had the great opportunity to attend in the early 90’s and that has some unique features: self-governance, small student body (all male), geographical isolation, and a labor program as part of the education. Deep Springs College success makes it one of the most prestigious undergraduate institutions in the US, yearly sending its average 12 sophomore students to the top 10 American universities.

    More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Springs_College

    Have a great August Didier, and enjoy some deserved rest with your family! 😉

  2. Ciro Dias Reis

    In fact, Fundação Dom Cabral is a real reference on the Brazilian scenario. I follow the evolution of FDC since the 90’s and one of the main drives of its sucess is exactly the “determination and humility of its leaders”, to use Didier’s definition.
    FDC permanent concern of building a bridge between the academic perception and the “real world” of companies & business has been vital as well.
    Invited by FDC, I made a presentation to a group of leaders of the organization to talk about the topic “Communication” and its relevance in our 100% connected planet a couple of days ago.
    It was a very good experience. There is nothing better than exchanging ideas with brilliant minds. And FDC headquarters is fabulous.
    To make a long story short: FDC is producing high level knowledge & intelligence in tandem with the new Brazil’s global protagonism.

  3. Rubens Batista

    A great example, indeed. Also think that this is linked to the local culture as Minas Gerais, the state in which FDC is based, has a very singular one! In order to such an arrangement work it indeed needs focus and humility: knowing the entity`s purpose and complete submission of everyone to it!
    Have a nice time off with family!
    Best wishes,
    Rubens Batista

  4. Francisco Ferraroli


    I’m amongst the biggest FDC fans and agree with your remarks and feelings about them. Member of FDC’s PGA and PDC groups, I join you on the description you make about their commitment and passion for a better world.
    Um abraço,


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