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Having worked in a number of corporate roles, Henrique Drumond decided to take a sabbatical to figure out his next steps. This break away from his career would prove to be instrumental in helping him to forge a new path for his career and aspirations. After launching a company that benefited numerous people in his home country of Brazil, he is now studying the Sloan MSc to help him refine his skills – and take the next important step in his career.
I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship. My family has a background in business, so I followed in their tracks by graduating with a degree in Business Administration in Rio de Janeiro, where I was born. I worked in a diverse range of companies, from small family businesses to a large public company, from the energy to the real estate sector. I had a lot of freedom to innovate in these roles, but always within the company structure.
I started to feel like I was living quarter to quarter, and that I was missing something; I wanted to see the impact of my work on the world, rather than living by the corporate script. I considered studying for an MBA but I knew it would be an intense experience and at that point I needed time to breathe. So I took a sabbatical and travelled around the world, to learn about new cultures, new people and myself. I volunteered in Mozambique for a while, I went to Bhutan and India, and I did some interesting things, such as entering a mountain race.
During my time volunteering, I realised that I could make a big impact with very few resources. When I returned to Brazil, I knew I wanted to combine my past experiences in the business world with my future vision in the social world. A friend connected me to my future business partner, Michel, because we both had a common interest in solar energy. In 2015, we decided to launch a social business, called Insolar, to democratise access to solar energy in Brazil. Our aim was to provide low-income people with knowledge, technology, energy, opportunity and collaboration to empower them to succeed in the solar field, improving their lives and the lives of their families, their communities, and beyond.
When we launched Insolar, no one really understood the technology, no one was trained in the installation and there were no local production companies, so we had to do everything from scratch. I saw it as a social transformation opportunity; I asked myself, what if we combined the public sector, private sector and NGOs to work together on this? We wanted to help people living in low-income urban communities, or ‘favelas’, to cope with rising energy costs and to take advantage of the new opportunities in the renewable energy sector. Step by step, over the next five years, we were able to influence oil companies to promote solar energy, inspire energy distributors to support decentralized energy self-generation, collaborate across sectors to nurture the social business eco system, drive funds towards the favelas, develop renewable energy technologies and applications, and engage strategic stakeholders, from the local to the global level, to embrace the democratisation of solar energy – a movement that is gradually gaining momentum and critical mass to go mainstream.
One of Insolar’s biggest contributions was to show that we could get solar energy to the favelas. We designed a strategy to bring energy companies on board, and we entered collaborations with major energy producers and distributors. We won a number of awards, and that recognition showed we were on the right track. Then Shell told us they were launching a global campaign on energy transition, together with an accelerator to support different energy sources all around the world. We became the first start-up to join the accelerator, meaning we were able to leverage Shell’s resources and capabilities to influence the market and the shareholders; it meant we could be that cross-cultural organisation that connects everyone to a common cause.
We were on a mission to build the eco-system and let it develop by itself. We had ‘Insolar Communities’ to work with the favelas and ‘Insolar Cities’ to work with the municipalities, including the city hall of São Paulo, to go solar. We not only trained favela residents and homeless people to do solar installations, but also launched ‘Insolar Academy’, which involved lecturing in universities to promote energy transition and the democratisation of solar energy. We were in the right place, at the right time, with the right message to influence and support energy producers, distributors, and consumers to go solar.
There was a young man living in a favela who had never had a formal job and was working with his father as an assistant painter. He joined us, attended our classes, and started doing the electric and solar installations with Insolar’s team; he then launched his own business and hired his neighbours. From there, he became really successful in the solar field. With his inspiring example, among other successful stories, I realised I could improve people’s lives and empower them to succeed.
Unfortunately, we then had to stop our solar installations during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that gave me time to think. I reflected on what had, and hadn’t, worked so far, and I realised I had the right vision, but I didn’t have the right tools to scale up the business model as much as I intended; I was missing the business ‘chip’. I realised I could do much more if I had the right business tools, mind-set, and leadership skills. So I decided to apply to the LBS Sloan MSc in Leadership and Strategy programme to empower myself to become a global, transcultural leader, to take my vision to the next level and impact people across the board.
One of the main reasons I wanted to study at London Business School is because the classes are so culturally diverse; we have more than 20 different nationalities in my class alone. The School is also in a very diverse and cosmopolitan city; London feels like the centre of the world. This was important to me because I wanted to improve my transcultural skills to navigate between different cultures at all levels. I also liked that the programme was only one year-long; the idea of one, intense year of studying was attractive to me, so I would not be away from work for too long.
I was attracted to the programme’s focus on leadership and strategy; I realised that I was a good leader for what I was doing, but I wasn’t the right leader for what I wanted to do. For example, I can go into one favela and know everyone’s name, and implement a successful project to directly or indirectly benefit all the local residents and organisation; but this customised hands-on approach was not easily and quickly replicable (or scalable) to 1,000 favelas worldwide. So my aim was to become the leader I needed to be in order to perform on a global scale, and to improve my strategic approach.
One of my highlights of the programme so far has been the combination of case studies, high quality contents, experienced faculty, and rich debates with my classmates. It’s very different from my other academic experiences so far. For example, there’s a lot of debate; most of the people in my class are senior leaders, so they bring a lot to the table with their contributions. Another of my highlights is that the guest speakers have also really helped us to go beyond just the academic side of things. They’ve helped us to consider the person behind the strategy, their thinking process behind major turning points in their careers and organisations, and the tough decisions they’ve had to make and how they’ve done that. It’s so interesting to hear from people that have gone through the challenges I expect to also face.
It’s also really interesting to be in an environment when everyone is somewhere in a transition period, as you can express your doubts about your future and your career, and experiment with different strategies and talk to people with different experiences and motivations. That’s been another highlight of mine. I also volunteered as an academic rep to be able to interact more with the class, and connect more with my colleagues. Aligning my academic, professional, and personal life is one of my main goals, as it will help me to bridge the gap between who I am today, and who I need to be to materialise my vision for the future.
We’ve just started our electives for the next term. I’m really interested in entrepreneurship, sustainability, and strategy. As I plan the next stage of my career, I am exploring different worlds to meet new people, get diverse perspectives, and learn new subjects to be able to set a new vision and strategy for myself. The programme is really helping me with that, through the connections I’m making with my cohorts, the alumni network, the student clubs, the events I have attended, and all the in-person connections I am able to have in a global capital such as London.
Each of my colleagues on the programme come from a different background and has a different goal, and that’s the beauty and the value of the programme. It’s super powerful to be amongst such a diverse group. So the programme has exposed me to different people, interests, industries and high-level content, and the chance for self-reflection, too. One of my friends from LBS Sloan 2021 told me there would be three main elements in the programme: the academics, the networking and the self-reflection. So we can re-align our careers, our networks and our passions to be consistent with our visions, to help us deliver what we do after the programme.
Being awarded the LBS Sloan MSc Excellence in Leadership Award (LBS Fund) gave me some additional encouragement to really jump into the programme. I felt like the School had seen that I had something to contribute; it felt like a validation that I was making the right decision, I was in the right place and I was the right person for that place. I am so appreciative of alumni supporting scholarships at London Business School and I am forever grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity.
My advice to people considering the Sloan MSc in Leadership and Strategy is to be open to new cultures and perspectives; to research the programme, including the amazing faculty and content; to talk with alumni about their experiences; and to hear different perspectives about the programme. I would say embrace the opportunity as a transformative experience for your life, rather than just an academic experience.
The programme gives you the time you need to really consider what you want to do in your career. I’ve been speaking to a lot of people from different worlds, such as clean tech and NGOs, and I’m open to new experiences aligned with my vision and values. I want to find ways to empower people on a global scale. So, for my next step, I’m looking for the best approach to empower others to unlock their potential, follow their dreams, succeed in their careers, and live a happy and fulfilling life.
Henrique Drumond is a recipient of the LBS Fund Scholarship.