When recounting the career of Luiz Carlos Trabuco Cappi, head of Bradesco, one of Brazil’s most important banks, it is tempting to tell the story as a rags-to-riches tale of a simple kid from a small town who rose all the way from the ground floor to the executive suite through hard work and grit. While that telling wouldn’t be false, there’s far more to the story.
While Trabuco Cappi is undoubtedly one of Brazil’s most talented and knowledgeable financial CEOs, his rise was, at least in part, enabled by his own enthusiasm for globalist banking strategies.
As is so often the case, it seems that those who end up rising through the ranks of institutions are the ones who are most likely to internalize institutional imperatives. What makes the case of Trabuco Cappi so unique isn’t so much that he conformed to his institution’s norms but that it conformed to his. It turns out, the simple kid from the small town ended up being a highly sophisticated and somewhat ruthless global player, as if Trabuco Cappi was preselected by the global capitalist order itself as someone who would eventually have the right stuff to turn a sleepy, two-branch bank into a global powerhouse.
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When Trabuco Cappi got his first job at Bradesco when he was just 18, the bank was little more than a small-town outfit with just a few branches in the sleepy town of Marilia, located in Sao Paulo state. But as Trabuco Cappi rose through the ranks, so did the bank he worked for begin its ascent through the ranks of Sao Paulino finance. By the late 70s, Trabuco had become a regional manager for a bank that had become a regional player.
Along the way, Trabuco Cappi was able to get a degree in business and a master’s degree in social psychology. He was also an avid reader of the North American financial press, well aware of the methods that the most successful banks in the hemisphere used to attract clients and grow their businesses. In 1984, he was given his first real chance to put this knowledge to work.
In that year, Trabuco Cappi was appointed to the head of the marketing department. He immediately began professionalizing things, rebranding the company’s image and forging strong relationships with local media outlets and personalities. He began officially sponsoring charities and having company employees volunteer for community service events. Under his watch, the public image of the company was notably enhanced.
His success at transforming the marketing department into a modern and efficient machine led to his promotion to the head of the firm’s financial planning division in 1992. There, he began fundamentally changing the corporate culture and how the company approached its business. Until that time, the bank’s philosophy had been that all customers, no matter their value to the bank, should be treated equally and given the same level of service. Trabuco Cappi knew that was not how the most successful banks in New York, London and Hong Kong operated. He created a tiered service, with a special banking service, called Bradesco Prime, specially designed for the firm’s wealthiest clients.
The idea was that Bradesco could attract the business of high-net-worth individuals through offering separate, luxurious facilities, high-end rewards and personal bankers who would be on-call 24/7. The strategy proved fruitful. Bradesco quickly began cornering the high-net-worth personal banking market, adding millions per year in revenues. All of this success got the attention of the highest management in the firm. In 2003, Trabuco Cappi was once again promoted.
Now as head of the firm’s insurance division, Trabuco Cappi was again able to dramatically increase the unit’s revenues, driving it to become the single largest underwriter of retail insurance policies in the country.
Through it all, Trabuco Cappi profoundly changed the way his bank operates.
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