Meirelles Davis '00 (EMBA)
Profile: Claudia Meirelles Davis '00 (EMBA)
corporate America to lead a Brazilian organic coffee farm,
Claudia Meirelles Davis finds sustainable business uplifting
2004, after living in the United States for nearly a decade,
Claudia Meirelles Davis '00 returned to a Brazilian coffee
plantation similar to the one where she spent the first five
years of her life.
hadn't planned on returning to her native country —
much less to the world of coffee growing — but her willingness
to remain open to interesting opportunities has served her
well throughout her career. Now, she and her husband are using
their business acumen to try to make a profit producing organic
most difficult thing in converting a conventional farm to
an organic operation is the conversion period, how to be a
model farm but also be financially sound," Meirelles
Davis says. "We have to make a profit, reduce costs,
manage employees — so it's great to have been at Kellogg
and have business experience."
attending Fundação Getúlio Vargas, a prestigious business
school in São Paulo, Meirelles Davis began working for a small
firm specializing in international trading and procurement.
She remained in the field after graduating in 1988, working
for several companies before taking a position with MCS USA,
a midsized Brazilian firm, in 1995. That job took her to the
United States, where a lengthy trip to visit an important
client became an opportunity to work in the Chicago office,
where she stayed for eight years.
MCS, Meirelles Davis began the executive program at Kellogg
in 1998, graduating three years later. "I had become
curious about working with a bigger American company, so I
took a job with Transora, [a business exchange founded and
used by companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Unilever],"
she says. It was at Transora that she met Nelson Davis. The
two married in 2003.
on vacation in Belize with Nelson, Meirelles Davis took her
next career step. The couple decided that, rather than work
for 50 weeks a year to spend two in such an atmosphere, they
would leave their Chicago jobs and move to the tropics. A
few weeks after chatting happily about the plan at a dinner
with Marcos Croce, her former boss from MCS, and his wife
Silvia Barretto, Meirelles Davis was presented a new opportunity:
Barretto had recently inherited a coffee plantation in Brazil
and had begun converting it to organic production. Would Meirelles
Davis be interested in becoming the on-site manager?
so Claudia and Nelson found themselves in charge of Fazenda
Ambiental Fortaleza (FAF), a 1,000-hectare farm that produces
coffee, honey, yogurt, beef and cheeses — all organically.
"When we first got here [in April 2004], there was a
field manager who had been running things for 20 years, so
we didn't have to worry much about the daily activity. But
by September, he had some problems and has been on medical
leave, so we also have taken over the operations," Meirelles
Davis says. "It's like being the mayor of a little town.
We deal with electricity, roads, houses, sewage; we deal with
all the external contacts, develop new customers."
has a commitment to organic production, despite the higher
costs. It takes two men to spray herbicide on a field, but
six are required to weed manually. The farm is now experimenting
with "natural" production: not only are no chemicals
used, but the coffee plants are allowed to grow all season
without human interaction. It's a strategy that allows a mix
of trees on the same land, leading to a more sustainable habitat.
cover its higher costs, FAF charges more for its coffee, depending
on the tastes of a discriminating consumer. The plantation
exports about 70 percent of its coffee to Japan, while about
20 percent is sold locally. The rest goes to small roasters
in the U.S. and, starting this fall, in some retail establishments
under a new brand, Café Natureza.
Davis cheerfully acknowledges that, with a workday that starts
before 6:30 a.m. and runs well past when the workers go home
at night, she and Nelson work harder than they ever did in
we look at each other and say, 'How different this is from
Chicago.' But we can say we're 100 percent happy. We love
our new lifestyle."