Get to know the Dean of the I.H. Asper School of Business
Dr. Silvestre shares what excites him about the role, advice he has for students and the unique perspective he gained while growing up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
On July 1, 2022, Dr. Bruno S. Silvestre was appointed as Dean of the I.H. Asper School of Business. While in this role, Dr. Silvestre will serve as CPA Manitoba Chair in Business Leadership, CN Professor in Supply Chain Management and will continue to carry his tenured professorial appointment in the Department of Supply Chain Management. We chatted with Dr. Silvestre about what excites him about the role, advice he has for students and the unique perspective he gained while growing up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
What excites you about working at UM?
Working at UM, to me, is an opportunity to make a difference. The U of M is a research oriented, comprehensive university and has an immense impact on the Manitoba community and economy. It is committed to the future, and these things attracted me. When I say committed to the future, I’m saying there is a deliberate effort to reconciliation and a real commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. I also see an increasing commitment to sustainability, and those elements are critical to the future of this province, country and society as a whole. These are remarkable points and from my perspective, very attractive characteristics that a university can have.
The Asper School of Business elevates these characteristics based on our efforts to make societal impact and commitment to research and teaching excellence. I am proud to serve this amazing school and play a key role in strengthening the Asper School as an internationally recognized business school. As part of my previous role as Associate Dean of Strategic Partnerships and Administration I was closely involved in our School’s AACSB accreditation process and value the contributions our faculty and staff have made to allow us to maintain this premier international business school standard for more than 22 years.
What is your background, and how did you get to the role of Dean?
My undergraduate degree was in production engineering. I worked with production engineering and manufacturing, perhaps for only one year or so. Then I quickly moved to managerial positions within the company I used to work for and started understanding that the people and the relationships were much more important for me to grow and make a difference than the technical side of things. So, I soon realized that business was my thing based on my personality and what I like and how I deal with things. I did my MSc and Ph.D. while working full time in a multinational energy company; it is not easy to do these things simultaneously. And one day, for several factors, my wife and I decided that it would be best for us if I transition to academia. I worked in the industry for 13 years before becoming a full-time academic.
Then I came to Canada, first to Vancouver, where I spent three years at Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University. Then I received an offer from the University of Winnipeg, where I stayed for five years in the Faculty of Business and Economics. After that, I received an offer from the Asper School of Business in 2015, and I joined the school in 2016. During my time at Asper, I have been fortunate to work in leadership positions and serve the school in several capacities such as the Transport Institute Director, acting Department Head, Associate Dean of multiple portfolios, Acting Dean and now Dean. UM is my home.
What’s one piece of advice you have for students?
Business is my passion. So, I will have to relate to that. It is all about relationships, the power of relationships, and how you build that trust because nobody can do anything by themselves. So, for students, it goes in line with what I’ve learned in my career, the technical side is very important, and students should pay attention to that. But as important as that (or perhaps even more important, I would say), are the relationships, to be out there, to make genuine connections, with people, with the business community, with your colleagues, your classmates, to engage truly and build your network of contacts. I also strongly encourage students to take experiential learning and leadership opportunities while at Asper, for example, by participating on STAGs (Student Action Groups), case competition teams, international exchanges, co-op and internships. These are crucial elements and very powerful when you are building a career. Don’t focus on the grades – the learning, relationships, and experiential opportunities are the elements that will propel you to success.
What do you do in your role as Dean?
It is an interesting position and a very steep learning curve in the last few months. It is about making decisions, and complex decisions that affect people and multiple stakeholders. And when I say stakeholders, I say internal ones, staff, faculty and our students, but also external ones, the business community, our immense network of benefactors, the government and any other stakeholder that might be associated with the Asper School in any capacity. That is central to this role. If someone thinks that being a Dean is only about finance or budgets, it is certainly not; it is about people. Of course, the numbers are important too. But if someone wants to lead a team toward a vision, then it’s about teamwork and making sure that your people are happy, empowered and motivated to grow and accomplish. The motivation that comes from an environment built around trust and positive relationships is very critical to success when managing teams in complex environments.
Where is your happy place and why?
My happy place is in my backyard, preparing a barbecue for my family and friends, with my wife and my kids. My grandpa was a poor farmer who came from Italy very young and settled in the south of Brazil, close to Argentina and Uruguay, places that are famous for their great cuts of meat and great wines. In the area where my family settled, there were lots of small cattle ranches and family wineries. My dad taught me how to barbecue a good steak and to understand the grading of the cuts and how cooked it is just by touching the meat. He learned by practicing in his backyard with my grandpa, and he taught me by practicing with me. There is no formal training behind, but I consider myself a barbecue chef, taught by my dad – a family tradition. Close to a barbecue is where I love to be, as it brings me incredible memories, with my kids running around and preparing a good steak, obviously not forgetting the veggies to keep it healthy.
What’s something that the UM community would be surprised to learn about you?
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and I learned a lot about surviving and having that thick skin. I did most part of my education in public schools and public schools in Brazil are different from what we see here. It’s another thing, you have to be ready to react to secure your space, you have to observe very attentively what is going on. Because it’s a tough place and I learned how to navigate those things. My family was poor, not in terms of food and those things, but in terms of other things that they could give to the kids – things were quite restricted. However, my mom always prioritized and was very attentive to my performance in school. She was the one that supported me to get my education and move forward no matter how difficult the circumstances were.
In public schools at that time, the government used to give lunch to students, and the lunch was not great – often a piece of bread with butter or guava paste, milk and coffee. I used to live very close to the school and I would prefer to walk to my house and eat something.
One day a classmate came to me and said, “Bruno, I realize you don’t eat your lunch every day. Do you mind giving me your lunch because I have a three-year-old brother and we usually have one bread for dinner every day? If I eat twice here, I can pass my bread to my brother.” I was shocked – probably in grade 7 or 8. Those things are so impactful; they change the way you see the world.
Sometimes I see people complaining about little things. And I start thinking about that specific classmate that I really don’t know where he is now, and I don’t know what happened to him and his little brother. And the certainty that 1,000s of other kids are in the same position right now, not only in Brazil but in many countries. That’s why I usually don’t complain. I don’t like to complain because it’s not fair. It is not fair for us to complain, especially in a beautiful country like Canada, we have such a privilege. If I start thinking about something negative, I try to revert that immediately because that will not lead anyone anywhere. It’s not going to help one to succeed. So, complaining is a no-no for me. And, based on the things that I’ve learned and based on the things that I’ve seen; I think life is beautiful, and that’s why we need to celebrate every single day.
What person or event has shaped you as a person or in your career?
My parents are my heroes, and I am here now because of them and the sacrifices they made for my sister and me. Growing in a country like Brazil, and with so many financial difficulties, it is challenging. I thank them all the time for providing me such valuable input. Not money, but the education, the values, that’s enough, that’s what I needed, and they provided me a strong foundation. And I see people getting family money in large amounts and not making good decisions. Taking things for granted, and that’s never good. Should also mention my wife and all support she provided me later in my life after we met. She also comes from a poor family, but she is so strong! Without her, I do not know where I would be today, how my life would be, personally and professionally. She is the foundation of our family.
What do you like to do in your down time?
I love to ride a bike with my kids. We live relatively close to the Assiniboine Park and on good days we usually go there. My son is ten years old and he’s super excited about these journeys with Dad. My middle one is eight years old, and she has been joining us this summer. And the smaller one is six; she’s preparing to get active and come with us cycling a longer distance by herself. Apart from being outdoors, I love to be with my wife and kids to watch a movie or TV show together. Obviously, I don’t have any say in the selection of the movie. But I still go and have fun with them. As soon as I see their faces having fun – that’s enough for me. And you know, I’ll be there sometimes, not looking at the TV but looking at their faces. [Laughs]
What do you like to read?
I love history. I love civilization, the history that shaped the world we are in now, the formation of countries, how Canada came together, the US, Brazil, and other countries. The two big wars are also a passion because I have family members who engaged in those wars, and one was killed in a battle in Italy. Additionally, I love to learn more about the history of faith and religion. Not any specific but learn about all the faiths and religions that connect us humans to something much bigger.