Fernanda de Lima, CEO Gradual Corretora in Brazil, on the Family Business for the Masses

The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series features Fernanda de Lima, CEO of Gradual Corretora, an independent home and individual brokerage company.

Five years ago, Fernanda took control of the company that her father had established in 1991. Things needed to change radically for the business, so she put her unique brand to work, changing the business strategy to give a more focused appeal to the masses.

Fernanda is concerned with the Brazilian people and she wanted to help them not only invest, but also to take simple steps such as saving for retirement. So she gradually introduced programs to help educate customers so that they could be successful, whatever their goals.

 

We talked to Fernanda about her company's values; how she gained respect in a male dominated environment; and about the power of trusting yourself.

TNW: What factors did you consider when deciding whether to assume control of the company your father had founded? What were your main concerns and what made you decide to proceed?

FDL: My father and I had a secret agreement that we would never work with each other, but we would always be available to help when needed. The reason for that agreement was simple, we were best friends, and there was no room for improvement in our relationship.

Since I worked more than 10 years at the M&A department of JPMorgan always focusing on financial institutions, for me it was clear that “I had to help”.

All I could think is that if I did not “jump on the boat to help” it could easily sink for lack of leadership.

My father was the key executive and the main shareholder. If no one from the family assumed leadership, the employees would see it as lack of interest and naturally would look for other opportunities. One thing I learned is that in these moments: you cannot hesitate; you have to act quickly and respond to the market.

So I called a shareholder meeting and proposed my name as CEO. I was approved unanimously and in less than a month the Central Bank approved me as CEO as well.

TNW: What have you kept the same about Gradual Corretora since you became CEO and what key changes have you made?

I kept the values, of teamwork, low profile (there are no stars at Gradual, we believe in constellations...), and respect for the individual.

We also kept a lot of his charity work, and try to add a human face in an industry which is very often perceived as heartless. As for the additions, I basically invested a lot in IT, redefined the process and improved controls.

TNW: How does your company distinguish itself from others in the same arena?

FDL: Currently we are the only independent broker (does not have a bank behind it) that has a significant market share at the Cash and Futures Business, and have Institutional and Individual Clients.

We also have pioneered on the IT front, being the first broker to have its own system development team. This allows us to be independent form suppliers on all critical systems, which is good both in terms of costs but also in terms of service quality.

In addition, we are the only broker dealer controlled and managed by a woman, which in my perception is odd considering we are in 2011 and I assumed leadership in 2006.

TNW: How important is technology to the success of your company?

FDL: Technology is at the core of my business. The electronic trading is becoming more and more a reality also in Brazil, so connectivity, latency and SLAs are usual words in our meeting. When clients give an order they want it to be executed as fast as possible and also we need to store that information for regulatory purposes. Hence, we rely heavily on our IT infra-structure.

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge as CEO of Gradual Corretora and how could others learn from it?

FDL: My biggest challenge was to get respect in a male dominated environment. When I joined Gradual the Exchange was still a mutual company, controlled by the owners of broker dealers. Most of them were around my father´s age (70s) and there were no women. Back then I was 37, so you can see it was difficult to gain respect. But after 5 years in the business, no one treats me as the new kid on the block anymore. I remember back then, I wanted to listen as much as I could to learn what the best management model would be, but eventually I learned to trust my leadership skills and started doing things my way.

That is when I gained respect. So the lesson is an easy one; trust yourself.

TNW: Is there a moment as CEO which you remember as the highlight so far?

FDL: Yes, when I managed to be among the top 10 in the futures business. It was unique because I have always been told it would be impossible for a newcomer to be among the largest, and also because I did not have a track record it would be very difficult to open clients. As it turns out they were wrong.

TNW: What is next for Gradual Corretora? How do you see technology as a key growth driver?

FDL: Product distribution is our focus for 2012. And to do that properly I need to have good trading platforms, for which I rely on my development team but also on my IT infra-structure.  In a large country such as Brazil, only the banks can have a broad geographic coverage. But we can have strong footholds at the key capitals, and through systems reach clients in an effective way.

TNW: How does it feel to be CEO of a successful company in Brazil at such an exciting time of economic growth?  

It is a great responsibility, because you are on the spot, especially in my case, because I am known as being an aggressive entrepreneur.

Having said that, there are still great business opportunities in Brazil and that is the exciting part of it. Some transactions which are fairly common in the US and UK, still lack liquidity to be done here.

TNW: How has Dell or the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network enabled you to grow your business? What do you see as the benefits of all-women networks such as DWEN?

FDL: Dell has been a great partner throughout the process. Not only did they train our professionals and provide constant support, but most importantly they have helped us develop our IT infra-structure planning. This was very important because it allows the platforms we are currently building to be faster and more accurate than the ones offered in the market.

Women always lack men’s ability to network, so events such as these are always very good, because they allow us to reach people from all over the world, and learn from different perspectives.

For me, coming from an Emerging Markets it is always good to learn from people from Developed Markets, because what happened in US and UK is most likely to happen in our country.

TNW: Do you have any role models or mentors?

FDL: Yes, my father. He never worked for anyone, and started his 1st business at 21.

He based his life on a simple rule: treat people well, it does not cost you, but it certainly makes you feel better.

The Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of women in business, whilst looking forward at how we can progress and learn from each other. Natural networkers and relationship builders, women have innate flair for entrepreneurship. With DWEN, Dell is helping women in business to expand their networks while offering technology capabilities designed to help them innovate and grow their businesses.

The NextWomen is in partnership with DWEN to bring you a series of 40 interviews with the world's most influential female founders, investors and decision makers: The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series.

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