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With the world economy in a tailspin in late 2008, Marcelo Miranda thought about dropping out of the Stanford Sloan Master’s Program to get a job. Instead, the 32-year-old engineer and father feverishly arranged interviews with multinationals in his native Brazil during the winter holiday and spring break. His hard work paid off with 17 interviews in a week and 13 job offers. In the end, he surprised himself by turning them all down for a vice presidency offered during a 5-hour meeting with an entrepreneurial bricklayer and his accountant wife. They were building innovative prefabricated houses in a remote area of Brazil and had reached the limits of their management expertise. His Stanford education, he discovered, had made it possible for him to consider their offbeat offer.

By Christmas 2009, Miranda wrote back to friends at the Graduate School of Business that he was not only on the cover of Brazil’s leading business/career magazine, he also had been promoted to CEO of the company, which had grown to 2,000 employees and was planning to double in size this year and move its headquarters to Brasilia. “We want to be among the five largest construction companies in Brazil in five years,” he told the magazine.

Miranda’s decision to forgo a large, established multinational for a medium-size Brazilian-based company in a remote location challenged the established wisdom of Brazil’s young professional classes, the magazine VocĂȘ S/A said. Last year, for instance, the international brewing company AmBev had 60,000 candidates for its management trainee program. VocĂȘ S/A [translation: You Co.] attributed Miranda’s courage in part to his exposure to ideas at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “Closely connected to Silicon Valley companies and with a strong entrepreneurial curriculum, the school is home to brilliant, innovative professionals,” the magazine wrote. Miranda says he was especially influenced by a Strategic Management class in which he “learned to be humble but bold at the same time.” Alumnus Steve Ballmer also impressed him with a class talk about how he worked on the operational end of the nascent Microsoft to implement Bill Gates’ creative ideas.

For their part, the founders of the Brazilian construction company BS Construtora were past their comfort level, too. “I was worried that, because of all his qualifications, he would have demands and would be a cold person,” said Sidnei Borges, the entrepreneur who had dropped out of school in the fourth grade to learn bricklaying and by 2001 was designing and building prefabricated sheds. By 2007, he was contracting to build 1,500 prefabricated houses a year, and by 2008, he had quadrupled his 2007 revenue.

In 2008, Borges’ company was honored with the Entrepreneur’s Award of Endeavor, a global nonprofit organization that indentifies and supports high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets to encourage long-term sustainable growth. The organization quickly advised Borges to seek professional executive help if he wanted to continue the company’s rapid growth. Meanwhile, GSB Professor Garth Saloner (now the school’s dean) invited an Endeavor founder to speak in one of Miranda’s classes, which encouraged Miranda to give the Endeavor-chosen company a chance to interview him. Nevertheless, with so many good offers he nearly canceled the meeting. But, after hearing the Borgeses tell their story, the challenge of structuring an innovative business practically from scratch was hard to resist. “Everybody said I was crazy,” he adds, except his younger brother, who endorsed his judgment. Next Miranda had to negotiate a grueling schedule to complete his master’s degree work at Stanford three weeks early because of the company’s pressing needs.

“He is a focused and very hard-working person, which is also why he got so many offers in a down economy,” says Sloan Program associate director Sandy Cover. “He followed up on every lead and kept his network growing.”

Catching up with Miranda for a magazine interview is not easy these days. He is busy opening two branches simultaneously, designing a new model for an automated factory, implementing “balanced scorecard” metrics and new business processes, moving the company headquarters, and planning for international expansion.

“The job is a great challenge of general management, and the Sloan Program was for sure very important to give me this base,” he wrote to Cover recently. “Remembering the days that I almost quit the program because of the financial challenge of being there during the global financial crisis, it’s really compensating when you take your own risks and overcome the challenges.”

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