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Professional Challenges

Moving from academia to the business world, Gilson Manfio has had a wide variety of experiences

SAMMY W. OLIVEIRAGilson Manfio, 47, has been with Natura Cosméticos S.A. since 2004. He started as a researcher in microbiology, but is currently responsible for managing strategy and communications as a member of the team overseeing digital technology governance, an evolving area that was traditionally known as information technology. The ease with which he faces these new challenges is a reflection of his academic training, coupled with his professional experience. After graduating with a degree in biology and a master’s in genetics, both from the University of Campinas (Unicamp), Manfio went to England, where he received a doctorate from the University of Newcastle. “When I returned to Brazil, I worked at the André Tosello Foundation and then became a doctoral advisor in genetics for Unicamp.” He then worked as a researcher at the Multidisciplinary Center for Chemical, Biological and Agricultural Research, connected to the university. During that academic period, he was involved in 21 research projects, of which he coordinated 13. “While working as a consultant for Natura, I met a microbiology colleague who invited me to join the company’s research group,” he says.

Between 2005 and 2006, he headed a group working on the development of new raw materials from plant extracts for cosmetic applications and oversaw the first projects supported by FAPESP in the Support to Research Program in the Partnership for Technological Innovation (PITE), in collaboration with the company. He was drawn to a new career.

“Natura had begun working with open innovation and, as I had a working knowledge of the academic research environment in Brazil and a very broad network of interaction in academia, I was invited to join,” he says. Manfio points out that the secret of a good partnership is to align expectations and meet the needs of both sides. “The company comes in with resources that foster research, which is generally applied research, but the university also contributes resources and knowledge,” he says.

The experience of working with external collaborators led him to widen his focus of attention. “I started working with theories of systematic thinking within the company, which involved the HR group and factory personnel, and then later with network theory.” And again a new challenge appeared on the horizon: the invitation to design strategy and communications in the field of digital technology. And so Manfio is studying how the company fits into a new model, in which its dealings with consultants and customers are handled from the perspective of interaction with the digital experience via mobile devices, apps, the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and SMS [short messaging system], for example.