In today’s globalized capitalist system, where the ranks between the corporate soldiers and the officer corps are often as well-defined and immutable as those found in military organizations, it is heartening to hear the story of someone who enlists as a grunt and through hard work, talent and grit, makes it all the way to the rank of 5-star general. In fact, such stories have become a precious rarity. But the career of Luiz Carlos Trabuco Cappi is one such real life story. The incredible rise of Trabuco Cappi from the lowest rungs of the corporate ladder to, arguably, the most exalted position in Brazilian business is inspiring in an age of increasingly ossified class limitations.
Breaking through the glass ceiling of Brazilian class structure
Luiz Carlos Trabuco Cappi was born into humble circumstances in the small town of Marilia, in the Brazilian State of Sao Paolo in 1941. He did well in school but did not have the immediate ambitions or the necessary resources to attend college. He eventually landed his first job as a bank teller at the local branch of a small bank called Bradesco, which, at that time, had just a couple of branches in Marilia. Over his first year at the bank, a job which allowed him to become an additional breadwinner for his family, he quickly proved himself to be an able employee and a quick learner. By the end of his first year, he was already being trained as a shift manager.
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Over the next 30 years, Luiz Carlos Trabuco Cappi slowly but steadily moved up the ranks, going from shift manager to branch manager, then on to district manager. Throughout this period, Bradesco itself began its long climb from tiny local bank to major national player. By the late 1980s, Trabuco Cappi was regional manager for what had become a major force in the financial sector of the state of Sao Paolo. Having successfully handled the management of hundreds of branches, Trabuco Cappi became a prime candidate for promotion to his first executive role.
In 1992, he was appointed president of the bank’s relatively new financial planning unit. Trabuco Cappi immediately went to work expanding the division’s business and aggressively recruiting new clients. The Brazilian economy had been going through a period of dramatic modernization, and Trabuco Cappi saw the new middle and upper classes that this modernization of the country was forming as prime targets for financial planning and retirement services. His strategy paid off huge. By 2003, the financial planning division had gone from just a couple percent of Bradesco’s revenues to over 25 percent of the firm’s total profits. Trabuco Cappi’s success in growing the financial planning unit was rewarded by his bosses with an appointment to run the company’s large insurance division.
Between 2003 and 2009, Trabuco Cappi once again worked his magic, growing the insurance division by a factor of more than two. By 2009, he had grown the underwriting arm into the single largest provider of retail insurance policies in the country, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the firm’s profits. By this time, Trabuco Cappi’s reputation as a man who could get big things done was cemented. When Bradesco CEO Mario Cypriano was due to retire, there were few serious competitors to Trabuco Cappi for the slot. In 2009, he was appointed CEO of Grupo Bradesco.
But being CEO proved far more challenging than some of the other roles Trabuco Cappi had taken on. Over the first six years of his tenure, the firm’s stock price stagnated and most of its business units experienced no growth. However, in 2015, Trabuco Cappi closed the largest acquisition deal in Brazilian history. He bought HSBC Brazil for $5.2 billion.
This single deal rocketed Bradesco to the top of the Brazilian banking industry. Now positioned to become the country’s preeminent bank, the question, going forward, will be whether Trabuco Cappi can convert that position to a permanent stronghold on the Brazilian financial market. Only time will tell.