Cinthia Passos Maia.

Meet Cínthia – an MBA role model representing Brazil and diversity across the board

31 May 2023

The article at a glance

We meet Class of 2022/23 MBA student Cínthia Passos Maia from Brazil and hear about her journey to Cambridge Judge Business School, with the support of organisations like TalentoTotal, and how she feels about being a role model for Black candidates who are choosing an MBA to progress their own global career growth.

We meet Class of 2022/23 MBA student Cínthia Passos Maia from Brazil and hear about her journey to Cambridge Judge Business School, with the support of organisations like TalentoTotal, and how she feels about being a role model for Black candidates who are choosing an MBA to progress their own global career growth.

Representing diversity on the journey

Cínthia Passos Maia is the first Black woman from Brazil to study for her MBA in Cambridge. Her journey here was not an easy one.

“I’ve needed resilience. And persistence. If you look at any statistics on leadership in Brazil, you will see that Black people are under-represented. For example, while around 53% of the workforce comprise people of colour, there are only 5% in high leadership among the biggest 500 companies in Brazil. There were a handful of role models, and little support. I am witnessing change, but there is still a long way to go.”

As an undergraduate reading accounting at the University of Săo Paulo, Cínthia was involved in promoting awareness of the low levels of diversity in Brazil and co-founded a Black business student and alumni association of the university, ANFEA-USP.

“Lots of networking groups were emerging at the time between Black professionals in Săo Paulo. We started to receive support from major organisations such as Microsoft and JP Morgan, who organised networking events.”

It was at one of these that Cínthia first heard of Gem McCreary, Founder and CEO of TalentoTotal. “I was talking to a friend who knew I wanted to do an MBA. And he told me about this founder called Gem who had set up a boot camp to help prospective Black MBA students from Brazil progress.”

Support from TalentoTotal

As a Ranger and Airborne qualified former AH-64D Attack Helicopter Pilot in the US Army, Gem McCreary agrees happily that the TotalMBA Prep programme is run along strict disciplinary lines. “Our candidates go through a strict vetting process before getting on to the course. And if they do not deliver, they will not make it.”

Gem is a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point, with an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. It was when he went to work for Citibank in Săo Paulo that he noticed the poor representation of Afro-descendant and Indigenous (ADI) professionals in leadership positions.

“My father was born in Greenville, Alabama, 130 kilometers from Tuskegee Army Airfield, where the first Black US Army pilots were trained in World War Two. They fought with distinction in Europe and as a Black child their story inspired me to think I could be a pilot too. So now, when I see a lack of diversity, when I think ‘why are there no people here who look like me?’, I try to do something about it.”

Gem’s response was to establish TalentoTotal, alongside Douglas Nagy, Co-Founder of McKinsey & Company’s office in Medellín, Colombia. Knowing that global MBA programmes are a major source of talent for multinationals and leading national companies, Gem and Doug believed that developing an MBA talent pipeline for ADI MBA candidates could change the diversity and leadership landscape.

A GMAT boot camp leading to Cambridge Judge

In 2018, Cínthia was invited to participate in the first TalentoTotal GMAT Boot Camp, which was taught by Cambridge Judge alumnus Jayson Beatty (MBA 2002). “I had 3 years’ experience working in financial services in the automotive industry, two years in valuation consulting, and I wanted to move into strategy consulting. But I was finding practicing for the GMAT exam very hard without any support. The boot camp provided me with much needed professional development, coaching and leadership training, as well as help in finding sponsors.”

In 2020, she attended another event in Săo Paulo, jointly organised by TalentoTotal and Cambridge Judge Business School after Gem had visited the UK the previous year. As he recalls, “From the start we targeted the top 20 to 30 business schools internationally. I interact with all of them and CJBS have been really leaning forward in actively pursuing racial and ethnic diversity.”

A focus on Europe for an MBA

Although Cínthia was applying for business schools in the US, her dream was to go to Europe. “I love the British culture, the artistic drive, but I hadn’t considered Cambridge until I met Margaret O’Neill, Head of CJBS Careers at the time, at the event. She told me how diverse the Business School was. That really attracted me – and now I am finally here, where I discovered there are people of 46 different nationalities in my cohort!”

Cínthia was keen on a one-year MBA course. “It is less of a financial commitment and the top companies are recruiting from the one-year as well as two-year MBA pool. I talked to quite a few former students before applying to Cambridge and when I got my place, I connected up with another Black female student, Daisy Ong’angi from Kenya. We both ended up postponing our places for a year due to the pandemic.”

From strategy consulting to the Global Consulting Project – the MBA experience at Cambridge

Cínthia spent last summer as a pre-MBA Summer Consultant at BCG in São Paulo.

“I am attracted to strategy consulting, but I am also enjoying the opportunities the MBA gives me to broaden my horizons – instead of the Strategy Concentration, I have chosen the Culture, Arts and Media Management (CAM) Concentration to tailor my studies.” She is relishing the intellectual challenge. “It is not just practice, but deep intellectual thinking. I was not expecting such a strong connection to academic research.”

Cínthia is currently applying her new learning through the MBA Global Consulting Project. “The course on Management Praxis is proving especially useful right now when we are working for a real company. It is wonderful to have the chance to try things out in a safe environment and still deliver value to our client. I could travel to Mexico as part of my GCP to explore alternatives for the client to increase its visibility in the region, which is an invaluable experience within the Cambridge MBA and a differential for my professional development as a global leader.”

A role model – leading the way

Gem is justly proud of the first woman to pass through the TalentoTotal acceleration programme to get an MBA place, and only the second in the overall programme.

“It is so important we stay engaged with Cínthia, not just to continue to support her in reaching her professional goals but also so we can show her to our new candidates as a role model. Just twenty years ago, an Afro-Brazilian Black woman studying for her MBA at Cambridge would have been just about as bizarre as her becoming an astronaut. But then that is what people thought at first about the Tuskegee Airmen.”

As for Cínthia, she is keen to show others the way. “It can be hard coming from racialized countries like Brazil where racism is the elephant in the room. But my message is not to be paralysed or afraid but rather fulfil your potential despite bad past experiences. If you are thinking about an MBA, go for it. I am enjoying the experience of a lifetime!