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Lost Your Job on Wall Street? Head for Brazil!

Pinheiros Marginal in São Paulo, Brazil The financial crisis which has hit American and European banks has cost tens of thousands of workers their jobs. One side effect of this has been a rise in interest by Western bankers in other markets, particularly in India, the Middle East and the Far East.

The Times of London coined the expression summing up the dilemma facing those with no prospects in Western markets: ‘Mumbai, Dubai, Shanghai – or Goodbye”.

It quoted a headhunter as saying there had been an annual increase of 20% to 25% in the number of western bankers heading East over the past two years. So far there has been no sign of many (if any) of these job seekers heading to Brazil but there are a number of reasons why they should consider the idea.

Any Wall Street whiz kid would feel at home immediately in São Paulo. The city is obsessed with money, success, status and flaunting your wealth. Visit the old downtown area around the Bovespa and BM&F futures exchange, Avenida Paulista, Faria Lima, Funchal, Itaim and Berrini or head further out along the Marginal highway almost as far as Interlagos and you’ll see banks, brokerages, finance houses, insurance companies, accountancy firms, consultancies, actuaries and lawyers’ offices by the score.

Countless sky-high buildings, gleaming as the sun reflects their glass exteriors, swarm with hundreds of thousands of busy bees, plugged into their computers, phones glued to ears as they gaze into their computer screens while holding conversations with a dozen people at the same time.

All of them obsessed with making money. All of them still have the same hunger for security and success that their ancestors felt when they arrived here from Europe, the Middle East and Japan, as well as every state in Brazil.

I believe the Paulistanos outdo New Yorkers any day when it comes to energy and stamina. While most workers in Wall Street cannot afford to live in Manhattan and head off in the late afternoon/early evening to the outer boroughs or to their suburban homes in New England, the São Paulo financial workers live in the city and are at their desks much longer. 

They are also much more flexible and enterprising in my experience. Some years ago I arranged a conference call with two top São Paulo analysts and some clients in the US the following Monday morning. I had forgotten that the time would change that weekend. The result was the analysts arrived two hours earlier than they needed to. They were not remotely fussed and agreed to come back later. 

Compare this with the attitude of a German banker I once interviewed for an in-house magazine. After the article appeared, he sent an angry email to the marketing director of the company complaining that I had wasted 40 minutes of his “valuable” time since I had not given enough coverage to a deal he had been involved in.

People in the São Paulo financial area will work straight through the night to finish projects without making the slightest complaint. I know one equity analyst who went three nights without sleep recently when he was writing reports on the quarterly earnings of companies he covers.

If they work hard, they also play hard. São Paulo is open all hours whether you want to go to a concert, bar, supermarket, hairdresser or dentist.  New York may claim to be the city that never sleeps but, to my mind, it is not in the same league as São Paulo in terms of the vibrancy of the lifestyle and excellence of the restaurants. 

When you’ve stopped drinking and dancing at 5 am you can go to one of the thousands of cozy bakery cafés known as padarias and have breakfast – before heading back to another 12-hour working day.

São Paulo is not a city for losers. If you can’t make it on your own then don’t expect anybody else to help you. This has led to many immigrants giving up and returning home empty-handed but those who stayed showed iron stamina and endurance and built a city that overwhelms every foreigner who sees it for the first time. Their efforts also turned São Paulo state into the economic powerhouse of Brazil, responsible for around 40% of the entire GDP.

This wealth was founded on the rich agricultural land which made the state the world’s largest exporter of coffee and orange juice, and a major exporter of sugar. If you are reading this outside Brazil then the chances are that the orange juice, coffee and sugar you had with your breakfast today came from here.

(There is also a fair chance that the chicken you will have for lunch and the steak for dinner tonight may also have originated in Brazil but that is another story.) This agricultural bounty is still continuing with ethanol production from sugar cane. Despite common belief abroad, most of Brazil’s ethanol is not produced in the Amazon but in upstate São Paulo.

Industry has also developed and São Paulo is now an exporter of cars, planes, steel, aluminum and all kinds of raw and manufactured goods as well as services. Although much of this development was led by foreign multinationals for decades, it was the Brazilian management and workforce which coped with the problems associated with the boom and bust years and the lost decade when Brazil was felled by hyperinflation, a huge foreign debt and feeble growth.

Nowadays, companies from São Paulo like the beverage giant Inbev (of which Ambev is one of the controllers) and the Votorantim Group have turned table and started buying up companies abroad.  

Inbev is currently trying to buy Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser, while Votorantim has become one of the largest cement producers in the United States and Canada.

Brazil is also helping the US and other countries cope with the ongoing financial crisis as foreign firms, particularly banks, remit the hefty profits they have made here to prop up their parent companies’ shaky balance sheets.

Foreign companies remitted US$ 12.358 billion in profits and dividends between January and April this year.  A quarter of this figure went to troubled banks abroad.

On top of this dynamism the metropolitan region of São Paulo forms a consumer market of almost 20 million people. In short, São Paulo is a financier’s dream with tens of thousands of corporate clients and millions of individuals all needing services ranging from investment banking to mortgages and car loans.

São Paulo has always been a major financial center but the boom the Brazilian economy is enjoying has expanded its influence at world level. The Bovespa and the BM&F have recently merged to form the world’s third-largest publicly traded securities exchange.

Petrobras is now the sixth-largest company in the world in terms of market capitalization. It may not be based in São Paulo but much of its potentially rich oil reserves lie off the São Paulo coast.

Brazil’s expanding economy has led more companies to list on the stock exchange. Around 10 middle market banks and 15 homebuilders have opened their capital over the last two years. The pace has slowed somewhat and some listings have been postponed this year due to the international financial crisis but this crisis has had little effect on Brazil to date.

All this means that there are jobs aplenty for skilled financial professionals whether investment bankers, traders, analysts, consultants or tax specialists. The choice is your – out of work in Wall Street or making it in Avenida Paulista. Are you ready to go for it?

John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish writer and consultant with long experience of Brazil. He is based in São Paulo and runs his own company Celtic Comunicações. This article originally appeared on his site www.brazilpoliticalcomment.com.br. He can be contacted at jf@celt.com.br.

© John Fitzpatrick 2008

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