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Banking CEO: How I Survived Long Ride on Brazil’s ‘Roller Coaster’ of Change

August 14, 2017

Banking CEO: How I Survived Long Ride on Brazil’s ‘Roller Coaster’ of Change The ability to adapt has long been a secret to success in business. But today, it’s also a secret to survival.

That’s because change and even upheaval are “definitely a norm” in global business,says Rodrigo Xavier (’93), former CEO and chairman of Bank of America Merrill Lynch Brazil. “Turbulence and controversy can come anytime, certainly with new governments or elections. And that can create very different scenarios for an economy.”

Xavier should know. During his 25 years in Brazil’s banking industry, Xavier has seen the country undergo what he calls a “roller coaster” of volatility: hyper-inflation, stock market plummets, devaluations, rapid growth, recessions, political corruption, presidential impeachments.

“Brazil is a fertile place to study economics, especially what not to do,” he says. “When people think of crisis in the West, they have no idea what volatility really means.”

In his Aug. 17 lecture as part of Thunderbird’s Global Speaker Series, Xavier will share his professional and personal experiences during these dizzying periods of growth and crisis in Brazil, and he will discuss how the ability to respond to change has become an essential attribute for today’s business leaders.

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The technology revolution

Economic and political uncertainty call for “the ability to understand and adapt,” he says. “We are living in the biggest revolution in modern times: technology. It’s changing everything so quickly. Across every business sector, in communications and government.

“Technology is bringing us a new kind of economy, and we don’t know exactly how it’s going to turn out.” Click to tweet

“Technology is bringing us a new kind of economy, and we don’t know exactly how it’s going to turn out,” Xavier says. “This is not necessarily bad instability – it can be good – so a better word is ‘disruptiveness,’ he says.

“How will technology impact the financial industry? Five years from now, we can expect it’ll be radically different,” he says. “And that revolution is happening at the same time that countries, including here in the West, are experiencing some of their biggest divides.”

The current divide in the United States is unlike those in the past, Xavier says, because there had been a certain level of consistency with policies and issues. “Political differences inside the United States may not have looked all that different to the outside world, to people abroad. But today there is more uncertainty about how the U.S. government will approach any given issue.”

“Brazil has always lived with the question mark, so we are more experienced than Americans are with this kind of uncertainty.”

‘6 different Brazils in 25 years’

Xavier’s firsthand experiences in Brazil span more than two decades. Before joining Bank of America Merrill Lynch Brazil, he was CEO of UBS Pactual and co-head of UBS Global Asset Management for Latin America. Xavier first joined Banco Pactual in 1993, the year he completed his master’s degree in international management at Thunderbird.

“I’ve seen six different Brazils in the last 25 years,” he says. “But it could’ve been much worse or much better, depending on how things went at certain points along the way.”

“We live in a world that demands flexibility and understanding.” Click to tweet

And this brings him back to the topic of Thunderbird. “We live in a world that demands flexibility and understanding. And if there’s one thing Thunderbird truly incentivizes, it’s multicultural knowledge. The ability to understand and adapt to different cultures is critical.”

Xavier points to China as an example. “In the years ahead, China is probably going to have a bigger GDP than the United States,” he says. “A business leader must have the ability to adapt and position oneself, to understand where the world is going. Thunderbird is going strong after 50 years because it values these traits, which are more important than ever now.”

In his Global Speaker Series lecture, Xavier will share his experiences on how to work and succeed in a volatile environment such as Brazil, but there are no borders or boundaries to the lessons learned. “Brazil is one of the largest countries in world -- it’s a relevant market on global scale. It’s important to understand its growth and struggles.”

Xavier also plans to share how he navigated these professional challenges while going through a life-altering personal event. “Nobody wants to go through hardships, but hardships bring you strength,” he says.

“You become stronger after you go through a crisis, whether professional or personal. And there’s always a sun after the storm.”

Rodrigo Xavier’s lecture is free and open to all. Aug. 17. Keynote: 6-7:30 p.m.; Networking reception: 7:30 p.m.  on Thunderbird Campus and via Livestream.

RSVP today!

Catch up on Global Speaker Series: Miss one of the 2017 keynotes? Watch videos of previous events here.

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