In 2015, the biggest coup in the history of Brazilian business was bagged by one of the country’s most celebrated businessmen. In that year, Luiz Carlos Trabuco rocketed his organization, Grupo Bradesco, to the number one ranking in the country across many business lines within the financial services industry. And he did it through one deal: the $5.2 billion purchase of HSBC Brazil.
Luiz Carlos Trabuco has been a darling of the Brazilian business press and has even garnered international fame for heading up the largest banking conglomerate, by many measures, in the country. But as the company’s stock stagnates and organic growth is hard to come by, it raises the question of whether or not the man who is often called the nation’s leading banker is up to the task of continuing the success of his predecessors, executives who oversaw the growth of Bradesco from a small regional bank into a financial services powerhouse. Many point to his slow, methodical rise through the ranks of Bradesco as evidence that no one is better suited to direct the firm. And Trabuco’s story is quite compelling.
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Born into humble circumstances in the sleepy town of Marilia, Trabuco got his first job at the age of just 18, working for what was, at that time, a tiny local bank with just a few branches. That bank was called Bradesco. Trabuco quickly proved to be an able employee and began rising through the ranks. At first he was promoted to shift manager, then branch manager. By the late 1980s, he was a regional manager for what was now a major player in the Brazilian financial services industry. Bradesco had risen in lock step with Trabuco himself.
In 1992, he was given his first executive role. Appointed president of the firm’s financial planning division, Trabuco took over a recently formed department that was a relatively small fraction of the firms total business. But that would not last long under Trabuco’s watch.
He quickly began growing the financial planning arm, aggressively acquiring new clients and expanding the product line. By 2003, the division accounted for nearly 25 percent of the firm’s total profits, a remarkable increase in size. This performance got the attention of Trabuco’s superiors, who were eager to put his magic to use in other areas of the business.
In 2003, he was appointed president of the group’s large insurance underwriting business. Here, he again was able to grow the division quickly. By the mid-2000s, Bradesco Seguros had become the largest underwriter of retail insurance policies in Brazil. By the time Trabuco left the post, in 2009, the insurance division accounted for over 30 percent of the company’s total profits and had more than doubled under Trabuco’s leadership.
It was then that the firm’s reigning CEO, Mario Cypriano, was slated to retire. The corporate charter required that all employees retire by the age of 65 and Cypriano was set to hit that threshold within the year. Trabuco was the obvious choice for replacement, with few real competitors within the firm. In 2009, he was made CEO of Grupo Bradesco by the board of directors.
But Trabuco was bequeathed a far more challenging role than any he had experienced before. The banking climate in Brazil had radically changed and not for the better. The organic growth that came so easy to not just Bradesco but the banking industry as a whole throughout the 2000s had collapsed. Trabuco’s only real hope to grow the firm to a position where they could challenge chief rival Itau Unibanco was through making strategic acquisitions. But even opportunities for those were sparse.
Then, in 2015, Trabuco saw a chance to gobble up HSBC Brazil. He closed the deal for $5.2 billion, but it hasn’t proved to be the huge boon to the firm that many predicted.
Trabuco still faces big challenges in the future. But there may be no better man for the job.
Learn more about Luiz Carlos Trabuco: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xDktJglYEQ