People love to hear of a real life Horatio Alger story, someone who is capable of rising from rags to riches through sheer hard work, dedication and development of their personal talents. However, in an increasingly financialized and globalized world, such stories seem to be vanishingly rare. It is for this reason that finding seemingly clear examples of these stories can be so inspiring. But frequently, what at first appears to be someone who is able to buck the odds turns out to be merely a cold professional who was playing the odds all along.
In the case of Luiz Carlos Trabuco, it’s hard to make a judgement either way. As one of the few people in Brazilian corporate history who has risen completely through the ranks of one of the largest companies in the country, Trabuco’s rise through Bradesco is unquestionably a testament to his own grit, drive and talent. On the other hand, in an ironic twist, it turns out that Trabuco himself became one of the leading forces for policies within the company that could be described as globalist and financializing. For these latter tendencies, Trabuco can hardly be criticized. In fact, most observers would readily admit that he was one of the leading forces within Bradesco that enabled the bank’s incredible rise from a tiny local concern into one of the most powerful holding companies in Latin America.
Still, it isn’t so much that Trabuco was able to bend the constraints of money and power to his own personality. On the contrary, it was the constraints of money and power that seemed to increasingly shape him throughout his career.
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From uneducated high school grad to worldly sophisticate
Trabuco first came to work at Bradesco when he was just 18 years old. Hired on as a bank teller, he had only a high school diploma and was excited to be hired on, even if it was the lowliest position that the bank could offer.
But over the next 10 years, Trabuco would slowly begin rising through the ranks. At first appointed shift manager, he quickly won the confidence of his superiors, being appointed to positions of increasing responsibility. At the same time, he was able to put himself through school, eventually receiving a master’s degree in social psychology. This combination of rigorous academic credentials and increasingly vast experience within the bank and all its business lines eventually made Trabuco a formidable candidate for promotion. In 1984, he was offered his first executive role within the firm.
Appointed to the head of the marketing department, Trabuco inherited a unit that had never been managed in what many bankers might refer to as a professional style. Using his academic background and extensive knowledge of international banking markets, he quickly moved to bring Bradesco’s marketing strategy in line with that seen at the most successful financial institutions of North America. His reforms proved to be a huge success, with the bank’s sales increasing and relationships with local media being stronger than they had ever been. But this also marked the beginning of Trabuco’s personal influence over the strategies and business model of the bank.
He began using a marketing strategy of going after higher-end clients. The success he saw with doing this would prove crucial later in his career, when he was in a position to really begin making profound changes.
In 1992, Trabuco was appointed head of the bank’s financial planning division. There, he immediately moved to create a multi-tiered banking service, with the bank’s wealthiest and most high-value clients receiving a level of service far higher than the ordinary customers. This transformation of the bank into an institution that sought to cater to the very wealthy proved to be an enormous success. The financial planning division quickly grew from just 3 percent of revenues to nearly 30, marking an astonishing period of growth.
Trabuco’s rise was swift and steep. But it came at the abandonment of the bank’s older, more egalitarian customer service model.
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