Hooking Chinese Consumers & Tackling Food Security with an MBA

Summer internships are often a defining moment in the career trajectory of a young professional. This was the case for MBA 2019’s Rodrigo Laniado, who had contrasting experiences during two of his summer vacations while an undergraduate at Emory University in the US. He spent one summer in the glamorous surroundings of the global investment bank Goldman Sachs in an office near the golden beaches of Miami. Another was spent in his native Ecuador, walking around hectares of outdoor ponds for eight hours a day to feed tens of thousands of shrimp by hand. For Rodrigo, one experience clearly had the most impact on his career, and now he is preparing his family business to capitalize on China’s enormous appetite for shrimp through his MBA at CEIBS.

MBA Admissions sat down with Rodrigo to discuss what inspired his MBA decision, his changing perception of China, food security as a strategic priority for the country, and how plugging into the CEIBS network has given him some practical takeaways for his family business, SONGA.

Since the tender age of 15, Rodrigo has been assisting his family business, one of Ecuador’s oldest shrimp companies, to exhibit their product at seafood fairs around the world. “In the early days, the Chinese buyers were barely in the picture, accounting for maybe 10% of our sales,” reflects Rodrigo. “Then in 2013, we saw a massive spike in demand due to a disease that affected much of our competition in Southeast Asia. I remember vividly after one of the fairs having a beer with peers from Alaskan salmon and Canadian lobster exporters.  Between us we came to the conclusion that China is now so important that it basically controls the entire seafood market around the world. If China buys, prices go up, and if they don’t buy, prices fall. That was the trigger for me, as I realized that taking my family business to the next step depended on gaining the China advantage, and an MBA from a network and skills perspective was the logical choice to bridge that gap.”

As Rodrigo’s second term at CEIBS draws to a close, he has already made inroads towards better understanding the rapidly-evolving e-commerce and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) markets in China. “What has really impressed me so far is the willingness of CEIBS alumni and their mentorship network to sit down and share practical insights,” he said. “The concept of ‘click three times and expect your food in two hours’ for example, is one of the many movements that is disrupting supply chains in China, with many city stores now doubling as distribution centres for e-commerce purchases.”

Food security, besides being a strategic priority for the Chinese government, is also very close to Rodrigo’s heart, and he is currently organizing the school’s first forum on the issue in collaboration with the MBA CSR club. For Rodrigo there are two parts to the global food security equation. “First, we need to ensure that our oceans are being fished responsibly, and second, we need to reduce our reliance on antibiotics in aquaculture practices,” he said.  Failure to rectify the second may well result in human beings becoming resistant to antibiotics, a scenario that will have catastrophic ramifications.

Rodrigo already sees Ecuador, with its sustainable aquaculture practices, as well-placed to meet China’s needs, but more can be done. “On our farms, sustainability starts with the health of the animal, which can be linked back to the surrounding natural ecosystem, the sizes of the pools, breeding, and even the time of day that the animal is fed. In China, people eat a lot of shrimp, maybe two to three times per week, which is already much higher than Europe. There is, however, still huge untapped potential in the central and western parts of China to be explored,” he said. “I want to do with shrimp what the Chileans are doing with wine in China – branding. Although the sustainability factor acts as a strong differentiator, there is still a long way to go, hence why I am here at CEIBS. I want our family’s Champmar brand to be the top shrimp brand in China.”

Inspired by the innovation in China, Rodrigo hopes to see technology playing a big role in the future of the shrimp farming industry. “In the age of IoT machines and big data, the major problem with shrimp farming is that our product lives under the water! If someone develops an underwater drone that allows us to accurately scan and calculate the number of shrimp in each pool, it will have a huge impact on our ability to forecast,” he said.

Until that time, Rodrigo has plenty on his plate as he prepares to embark on the MBA overseas elective in Malaysia where he will explore leadership for social responsibility. Imagine how different life would be for him had he chosen the corporate career path after his Goldman Sachs internship in the US. 

Inspired by Rodrigo’s story?  Here are a few ways to help you to further explore the CEIBS MBA: