25 June 2010

I wouldn’t exchange my AIESEC experience for a full scholarship in London Business School

And that is 100% true. I wouldn’t exchange the experience I lived in AIESEC for anything, especially not a scholarship in any of the top ranked MBA schools in the world. This is no empty rhetoric - I had to leave attractive things to be in AIESEC. I left a career that was giving me a reasonable amount of money to get more involved in AIESEC and after I also left the business I created (and was starting to become profiting enough to put a smile on my face) to come to AIESEC Norway and get a more challenging experience.

How can this organization provide such a powerful learning experience?

It’s simple, it doesn’t use the principles practiced by most schools: instead of classrooms and teachers, AIESEC give you the opportunity to be an integral part of the business, from the very operational level to the highest leadership position. It is learn by doing. We have the opportunity to work towards ambitious goals, work alone and in teams, manage budgets, sell to students, companies, NGOs and government, solve problems, deal with crisis situations, create and execute and change process, well, basically ANYTHING that you can learn in practice in a business, we do in AIESEC. In real life. No simulation. We are out there creating value or going bankrupt.

The difference of AIESEC and a business? While in a business you would take at least 10-20 years to get to top leadership of an international organization present all around the globe, in AIESEC we do it in from the 1st year – after you learn the basics, you are pushed out of the warm nest to fly or die. How? In our 800 business units in 107 countries we change the whole leadership every year. Every single year, since 1948. Talk about learning fast, adapting and keep growing anyway. We have a saying in AIESEC that “you are never prepared to your current position. You are only prepared when you are leaving the position and going for something even more challenging”. It’s about swimming or sinking.

Example? I will summarize my own experience (ok, it’s a big summary, but it’s really only 1% of what happened):

April to November 2005 – member of AIESEC

I joined the local committee of AIESEC in Porto Alegre. I was terrible with people (I could only get things done by fighting people and threatening them). My first assignment was to explain what was AIESEC to a classroom with around 10 people. I barely knew what AIESEC was. I was so nervous I was shaking and my voice failed.

Part of the team that evaluated the students that applied to join AIESEC
At that time my local committee was in rags, there was a severe retention problem and lack of pipeline for leadership. Results were down. Randomness was everywhere. It was not pretty to see. I had 2 choices: quit as most of the people did or apply to local executive board to change that and make it happen. It was a hard decision, because if wanted to be executive board, I would have to quit my well paid job in advertising, because I couldn’t handle both. But I needed the money. What I did? I decided to apply (and I got selected to vice-president human resources of that local committee) and I also decided to open my own advertising agency with other 2 colleagues, so I could manage my own time.

Executive board selection - the people selected are pushed into the pool
December 2005 until December 2006 – first leadership role
Being executive board in AIESEC Porto Alegre (or, how we say it “@PA EB”) was my first intense team experience and probably the biggest leadership development leap I had. From a struggling local committee of 10 people, we raised AIESEC Porto Alegre to a performing LC of 60 members. In the end, we won the AIESEC-Phillips award of best local committee in Brazil. The best part is that AIESEC Porto Alegre became a sustainable local committee that today is much stronger than when we left and their results beat the crap out of our term. Well done, Porto Alegre!

The No Fluffiness executive board
AIESEC Porto Alegre, best local committee of Brazil in the year 2006
In this year my competencies had a jump: I learned a lot on results orientation, emotional intelligence, change management, building and managing a high performing team (I lead a 14 people team), focus, leading by example, coaching, training and facilitation (I was a trainer for around 100 people and I was not shaking anymore!), planning (we even used the balanced scorecard), expectation setting, well… I learned a lot. In this year I was not a common university student anymore, I knew how to get things done. During this period I also learned about finances and general management on my own advertising agency, but I can say that I much more learned in AIESEC and applied what I learned in my business than the other way around.

First time I was a trainer in a national conference

The very first team I lead
December 2006 until December 2007 – national leadership role
I got a glimpse of leadership in the previous year, I wanted more. So I applied to the amazingly fancy title of “National Strategy Leader – Brazilian People Development Framework” (or “NSL BPDF”, AIESEC has awesome titles, no?) which I translate to the non-AIESECers simply as National Learning Coordinator.
During this year as National Learning Coordinator I had basic 2 roles (each of them were 6 months):

1 – support all the AIESEC business units in Brazil to implement a development framework to increase the awesomeness of the experience lived in AIESEC
2 – lead a team responsible for creating talent management tatics and support the implementation of those in all Brazilian AIESEC business units.

And a 3rd role that was part of both roles above: design and deliver conferences/trainings. That’s where I spoke in trainings for around 600 people and I was completely fine with it. How much my comfort zone stretched.

The first national board team days

That's the amount of people I was training in national conferences

December 2007 – failing
In the end of my term as national learning coordinator, I had 2 obvious choices: 1) don’t take a new leadership role and leave the organization or go on exchange; 2) take a full-time leadership role as Vice-President in the AIESEC National Board.

I was convinced that I would take the 2nd option, but then the President of AIESEC in Brazil at the time (Mauricio, that also wrote an awesome post when he left AIESEC) asked me if I was interested for running for president of AIESEC in Brazil, not vice-president. The idea sincerely never stroke my mind until he talked to me. I gave it consideration and I decided to apply. I had faith in my skills that I could get the job done, even though it would be for sure a huge challenge. If I was elected as president of AIESEC in Brazil, I would have the role of delivering the biggest operational growth the organization ever had and also deliver the AIESEC International Congress, which is a more than 500.000 euros budget, at the same time.

3 people applied to be president of AIESEC in Brazil and none got elected. I don’t know why the others lost, but I know why I did: I was arrogant. I believed that my smarts and skills, allied to my logic would lead me to being elected. I forgot the most important lesson I learned in my first leadership experience: people don’t act/think like me, we are all different.

I learned a lot the value of emotional engagement in leadership, too bad it was late.

June 2008 until June 2009 – vice-president human resources in Norway, not exactly a fail, but feeling like a huge failure
After losing the election in Brazil, I decided I didn’t want to be a vice-president in Brazil – it wouldn’t be challenging enough for me, I had done so much in the talent management area nationally in my previous role that I wanted something different. So I decided to apply to vice-president human resources in another AIESEC country! Yes, because AIESEC is an open platform, if you are a member of AIESEC, you can apply to AIESEC anywhere in the world.

I made a list of all the countries that had open application for vice-president HR and the first earliest application deadlines were UK and Norway. I applied to both, got selected to Norway and then withdrew my application from UK. I was now a leader in the AIESEC Norway national board.

That was not an easy year and it made me learn as hell. Besides cultural shock of the country, I discovered that also the organization mentality was very different. AIESEC Norway was ill: severe cash flow problems, underperforming in every area, uncommitted members, huge retention rate problems, etc. It was not the strong AIESEC in Brazil that I had just left.
The 2008-2009 AIESEC Norway executive board
It was so hard (and our leadership was not exactly awesome) that by around January (half a year of our term) the team had a huge break down. With this I learned the importance of the right selection and also building the team early, because if you don’t build it, the team will build itself – without any control and the results might be bad, as they were.

Again in January I had another choice: leave AIESEC Norway, defeated, or rise up once again and apply to President of AIESEC Norway. I took the steeper route, applied to President. And I got selected – this time I didn’t forget the importance of emotional engagement in the vision. What I wanted for AIESEC Norway is to turn it to be AIESEC everyday. Generating the kind of experience that got me until here, every single day. At that point of time, it was only a bold statement. We were far away from it, poor AIESEC Norway.

On my president candidacy speech

Selected the 2009-2010 president of AIESEC Norway

June 2009 until June 2010 – The Big Bang Team, big success!
I am still a bit shy when people talk to me and mention that fact that I am a president. It somehow doesn’t feel right. But besides being uncomfortable with the title, I must say that I never had a better, more challenging and pleasant job than being the leader of AIESEC Norway (or, how we would say it here, AIESEC Norge daglig leder).

I was lucky to selected the most hardcore and resilient team I ever saw. We started also with cash flow problems (only 15.000 in the drift account and average monthly cost of around 100.000), people quitting, lack of performance, uninterested members, etc. In the first 6 months, I think it was the hardest time of my life so far. But my team was simply awesome, we were far far more than the sum of our individualities. We managed to use our strengths, be flexible, put ourselves together and change AIESEC Norway from down to up.

The first team days of the Big Bang team
The things that we did as a team:
  •           Break the record of outgoing exchanges raises (previous year was 40+- and in our year was 70+-)
  •           Break the 20 years performance record of 40-55 exchanges per term
  •           Starting with 15.000 NOK in the drift account and finishing it with 350.000
  •           Having operational profit! (thanks to a diversification of revenues and innovative products)
  •           Had a major culture change in the organization (a problem that was there for 15-20 years). Today we only have performing members that are in AIESEC for the right reasons and working hard. (2 of the main things here were to fire the underperforming half of our membership and change the financial model.)
  •           Had elected better executive boards elected than previous term
  •      Exchange happening EVERYDAY (the dream came true!)
Our first national conference - in the DnB Nor Leadership Development Day
AIESEC Norway today is a different organization. Much better. Still with a long way to go to be strong, but we started it. The Big Bang Team name was prophetic - we were indeed the beginning for a new AIESEC Norway.

The first time I felt like leading a country - Fyru Fyru!
It was a pleasure to serve AIESEC Norway, but now it’s time to leave the stage to the new generation, because they also need to learn and take AIESEC to the next level. I know, looking to the new National Executive Board and the Local Committees Presidents that AIESEC Norway 2010-2011 will kick the ass of my Big Bang team in terms of results.

Most awesome team ever
Thanks you so much for my whole experience, I can only be grateful to AIESEC for all those years. They were the best in my life until now.

As musicians, we are very good leaders
Fyru! Fyru! The sound of achievement!


  1. Loved your post Sergio, I'll be doing the same in a couple of days before the end of my term. Your contribution to AIESEC Norway was obvious and will be a huge push to the organization for the coming years.

    Keep up the spirit and see you somewhere in the World!

    D'ali :)

  2. woww. .
    Awesome, you are inspiring people in AIESEC.
    hopefully, all AIESEC'er in the world read your story.

    AIESEC'er LC Unibraw.
    AIESEC Indonesia.

  3. woww.. cool story! for sure,i will spread it to my team.. i hope i can be like you. so inspiring :)

    Marina_LCVP Comm 1011
    AIESEC LC Surabaya
    AIESEC in Indonesia

  4. Thanks, people. You are in AIESEC, so for sure, if you give a lot to the organization, you will receive so much more back. Don't quit when you fail, endure and persist to make it work better! :)

  5. OMG!!! this is totally cool Sergio!!
    I love it!!!

    it refresh my day!!!!

    Widy Dinarti
    LCP Surabaya 0910 Indonesia

  6. Hello Sergio,

    Somehow I managed to stumble across your blog. I was never very good at following it even during our term but I think I came across it at the right time now when you are at your reflective best at the end of your term.
    I just want to say congratulations on the job well done. And it's not only for the exchange numbers but also about how you feel about your term, looking back at it. And you certainly seem to have loved every bit of it. So I'm very happy that things picked up so much after we left and hope that they continue to rise. I definitely would want to read Rolf's Blog next year and hope to see a satisfied smile there as well!

    Good Job! And good blog!

  7. Very Nice Sergio!

    Really enjoyed your blog, and congrats for everything you did over there, it really is the stuff of MCP Best case Practices!

    Cheers from Romania
    Alex Apetrei
    MCP Azerbaijan 10*11

  8. Hi Sergio!

    I don´t know you, but somehow I follow the link that I saw posted on other Facebook profiles jejejeje...

    Dude!! AWESOME post! you make me feel really inspired and I hope that everyone could live this experience as you have live it during these years!


    Ana Isabel Flores
    MCVP LC Development Spain 1011

  9. Hi Sergio :)

    Your history is just awesome. I share with you many of your first steps and thoughts in AIESEC. With this reading, I'm sure that my plannings in AIESEC aren't high enough and what I need is just one thing: don't give up, never.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Bruno Giacomelli
    LCVP @ Santa Maria-RS, Brazil.

  10. Hi Sérgio!
    I'm from Fortaleza, Brazil.
    I'm happy for to work at AIESEC and develop myself.
    And I liked this blog, 'cause it show how good is to be involved with the social change potential.
    I hope to see you in a international conference one day.
    Bye! ;*

    Sâmya Mesquita
    XP Team - @FO, Brazil

  11. Very powerful, Sergio! Thanks for sharing!


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