Stories & practices that empower real change

Fabio Barbosa: Towards Ethical Banking [Transcript]

Walter Link in dialogue with Fabio Barbosa

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Fabio Barbosa

I think we have to work on the development of the people, the command-and-control. The idea that they will give an order and you will behave the way I want you to behave. I don’t think it has ever worked. But if it has worked it was for a different society, not for the society of today. And meaning is the new money for the new generation. Meaning with understanding is that they want to have meaning from what they’re doing and that is part of their remuneration, of their rewarding of what they are devoting their time to. And we went far away now from the concept that the good behavior is the give back. You know, make a million and you donate 10%, 5%, 20%, 50%. And that’s what you do. No. That has changed entirely. The way you make the 1 million is very relevant.

 

Walter Link

Welcome to Global Leadership TV, my name is Walter Link. I’ve always been fascinated by the question of how we move from our many challenges into our full potential as individuals, organizations and whole societies. In this television series I inquire with some of the most innovative leaders from around the world about how they manage to move from inspiration to real change. Please join us in this exploration because we all make a difference and we all can get better at it. Therefore, on our website, we not only show other dialogues and publications but also the kind of practices that these leaders and their organizations use to move from inspiration to real change.

 

Today I invite you into a fascinating dialogue with Fabio Barbosa, one of the world’s most important business leaders in the transformation toward a sustainable economy. As Brazil’s leader of Banco Real, ABN/Amro and Banco Santander, Fabio was a pioneer of integrating corporate responsibility with banking. Under his leadership Banco Real won the Financial Times Sustainable Bank of the Year award for adopting social and environmental risk analysis and diversity management, microcredit and ethical investment. At Banco Santander he introduced groundbreaking sustainability programs, not only for his own staff, but also for several thousand leaders of client companies. Now Fabio is bringing his deep commitment to sustainability and transparency to the media as CEO of Abril, one of Latin America’s largest and most influential media groups. At the core of this innovative leader we discover a deep passion for the values that can help us to co-create a much better world. Join us as we explore together what is at the heart of sustainable business.

 

You have been one of the people who has been, in a very practical way and yet very inspiring for others, finding a way how to bring banking of course, now also the media, into the direction of sustainability. And maybe we can start with a historic question of, how did it start for you? How did you make that shift into this kind of personal commitment to service, to sustainability, to a new vision for the world?

 

Fabio Barbosa

 

I would say in different countries, in different cultures, you would have different paths to be followed. Here in Brazil, in particular, I think the issue of getting things done professionally and with transparency is an issue. Some people would think that in order to be successful you have to compromise. And I was always against that and I have had professional experience in the United States and Switzerland and I could see that actually this was not a reality.

 

So actually, when I came back to Brazil, my first in a strong commitment was that, I mean, we have to prove that you can be successful with doing the right thing the right way. So it became a little bit – and the expression I use is it’s a hard game but we aim at the ball and not at the opponent’s legs. In Portuguese it goes very well and also it has to do with soccer. But the concept is very strong. That you should not compromise. So it starts a little bit with that, the fact that you can do well without compromising. So the question which comes is, but how do you make it tangible? What are we really talking about in terms of a company? How can we bring concrete examples? So we start looking into things like, the first one had to do with the supplier. What kind of supplier are you going to hire? Do you care about what they do or not? What do we do with the money – with the companies we’re lending money to? Do we care about what they’re doing with the money or not? By the way, before talking to the company that we are lending money to, what do we do ourselves in terms of the environmental impact? And what about diversity? So what we did actually is having this idea that you can be successful without compromising in a society again which sometimes was fascinating.

 

I think today much less with this question and I think we are able to get tangible examples which are unquestionable ones. And that’s how we got to be – to have strong support in order to move on. Do we care about – I used to say with the people in São Paulo, it’s a big city and transportation is a problem and you have many services which are handled by people on motorcycles. There are accidents. But some companies have less accidents – some of these companies which are running the transportation of the documents and so on – than others. Do we care about that or not? We could be saying, I don’t care, I just want my document to be transported. But some companies say, yeah, I do. It’s my responsibility at the end. And it’s very difficult to be against that argument. But this kind of very concrete examples, difficult to argue against, helped us to build the concept. So we care. So it’s not just that one is cheaper but also the one which is not having accidents with its employees. Once we were able to bring that I think it was a breakthrough. Now, we’re talking that we have responsibilities which goes beyond the fact that we have to match and meet the targets of the bottom line. But the how we do it is important. So I think the strong argument came from the ability to have tangible situations in which sustainability was brought to the people’s reflections and there was no way to argue against it.

 

Walter Link

 

When we spoke last time you also told me, or told all of us, about the importance of training the people you are working with. And I remember that you organized trainings for thousands of business leaders in Brazil so that they too could understand sustainability better so that you could, as a bank, lend in a way that was more sustainable. Tell us a little bit about that program.

 

Fabio Barbosa

 

Actually, they are in two phases I would say. In phase one was how to make the people within the bank to be conscious about the process and the issues. And that one we did not go straight to thousands of people. We decided to go in small groups with no hierarchical consideration. Just saying, we are the people who really believe that the bank or the company has more responsibility than just to get the results delivered. The how is very important. So we got six people and 20 then 50 and then we got some committees which were working on what do we do internally? What are we going to do with our clients? And what are we going to do in terms of supporting society with philanthropy so to speak? But engaging employees of the company and not just writing a check, as they say, and erasing the consciousness. But really mobilizing the people.

 

So that was internally very positive because it allowed people to have the reflection on what to do in their activity. Because honestly, at the end we had 52 programs and I am not able or no leader is able to understand exactly the peculiarities and the specificities of every business. But if you make people conscious of what we are willing to do, they will get to a different approach to the business. And many different ideas came on that. Like the sustainable tourism, sustainable construction, suppliers, diversity, microcredit. And several things came as a natural consequence of that. And then we went to a second step once we had it and then we went to thousands. And we had recently the final figure was like 2500 companies which had gone through a kind of program which we called practice. And we were not there to tell people how to do or not, just to talk to different companies because they are also curious about what have we done. A little bit like we are discussing here. And we say, listen, we don’t know what to do in different businesses. We really don’t. And we should not lecture people on that, I have no idea.

 

We just found out that by having people conscious of what are the ideals, what are the issues, what are the desires, we would be able to move. And therefore what we do is not the answer, it’s what are the questions? And we shared a lot of knowledge about what were the questions we went through and how each one, if you get again tangible situations, one of those which are undeniable situations where people can’t really argue against it or even think against, but it’s difficult to argue in my example which I previously mentioned here of the people running motor boys as we call them, boys on the motorcycle. Nobody can ignore the fact that accidents are something undesirable. Maybe people would initially think it’s not our problem. But once they are in a meeting they cannot say that and that’s a very strong and powerful argument. So talking to the people, the other companies and having consciousness helped us also to broaden the concept and therefore the relationship with the bank became a lot easier.

 

Walter Link

 

So when I spoke for example to Guilherme Leal who also provided very extensive leadership development to people working at his company and beyond, he felt that what was really important was not only, so to say, the content of sustainability in business but also, what does it take personally to connect it to your life, to your own humanity and to develop your own humanity, to then function in a much more sustainable way?

 

Fabio Barbosa

 

In that sense, I entirely agree. I normally say, we are not really going on a river, upstream. We are going downstream. Society is becoming more conscious. So, although people think it’s difficult and so on, maybe we can question the speed at which we are moving – is it appropriate or not? But we cannot question that it’s difficult. The young people are a lot more conscious about all the issues that we could be talking about – environmental issues, social issues and the idea that you cannot do well in a country which is not doing well, that they have to mobilize. I think people are getting more conscious. I normally make a joke, but it’s not a joke, it’s actually a very powerful statement, that we may not have prepared a better world for our children but our generation sure prepared better children for our world. They are a lot more conscious today in every aspect. So companies, different from what we thought at the beginning years ago, that people would be thinking that these are silly propositions. They don’t. The majority think these are great propositions and they connect themselves to that. Again, that’s why I bet a lot on two aspects.

 

Number one, making people have their own reflections based on consciousness, reflections on what is good for their business, what is appropriate behavior for the business they are in. And, number two, bringing tangible evidence that they can have proper decisions and still carry on and grow in life is a false dilemma to say that either you look for a sustainable consideration or a consideration of sustainability on the way you approach a business or you get the business done. This is not true. This is I think a false dilemma and I state that very strongly because most dilemmas are never proved to be right. You can do both. You can add value to society on a business which is growing and do things properly from every single aspect of it. Again, not only environmental aspects but the social considerations, the legal considerations, what are the impact according to all the stakeholders around you. I think actually today I even think differently. I think that there is no restriction on this combination. It’s not the ethics of restriction. It’s an ethics of actual inspiration and innovation.

 

There are many new opportunities which will come from that. Clean energy is just one of them. But there are many other business propositions which are coming and businesses which are preparing themselves. Organic food or at least the rain forest concepts of <inaudible [00:13:42]> and all these kind which are certifying. Certifying wood, certifying production, certifying agriculture. This is something new that did not exist 10 years ago or certainly not 20 years ago. It exists now. But because of that, new business opportunities are coming. So false dilemma that either you are looking to sustainability or you continue to develop society and provide a good standard of living – or dignity I would say better than about talking about consumption – dignity to everybody. We can’t do both and I think that is what the challenge is.

 

Walter Link

 

When you speak about the inspiration that is bringing about this innovation which of course is very visible here in Brazil. I mean there is so much happening since 30 years ago when I first came to live here, so many things have happened. What do you feel is the source of that inspiration? Even in yourself because you have been a very innovative person. Where is this innovation coming from and what do you do to support that inner space, that consciousness as you called it, that then leads to practical innovation?

 

Fabio Barbosa

 

There could be a very long answer to that. But we are all byproducts of society. So, me too. But I think the issue here is – and again I will speak about Brazil – although recently I have had discussion with people in universities in the United States who are discussing that this may be a problem also in other areas of the world. But here in Brazil, which I know better, there is always this issue that you can get things done without the proper effort and you find your way around. And that was a culture which somehow attached high value to the guy who can get results without requiring the effort. And this is also something that disturbed me all along. And when I had the opportunity to live abroad for a few years and study abroad and so on for five or six years and when I came back it became clear to me that this was not necessarily the way to do it. And I saw several instances that actually you have to do things clearly and properly and with transparency and you get your results done.

 

So as I was always a very straight guy and I felt at school that there was not the proper support from the colleagues in a much larger extent than you would see in other countries because in other countries you would have the same problems more or less. But here, to an undue extent, people would say, no, don’t be silly, don’t study too much, don’t commit too much yourself. And if you really get good results people try to undermine you somehow. Instead of trying to match you they undermine you and bring you here and we all have the same mediocre performance. And this disturbed me and many people. When I came back to Brazil I made it a point – so it reinforced to me that this was possible and I have some instances I will not mention here but I can remember some specific situations that maybe we can talk about later. But it really was a turning point. I said, listen, this is wrong what we are doing here in Brazil. So I came back and I continued very straight and I got a professional career which was rewarding that behavior and that’s when I decided to say, listen, instead of only getting the things done the way I knew, I will spell this out because I said, there are more people like me which would like to defend the fact that we have to be transparent and that are not doing that role because there is a lack of reference.

 

So that’s when I became president of ABN/Amro before Banco Real 15 years ago. I said, no, I did that without compromising so I will spell this out. I will spell it out. And then people say, but, what do you mean by that? And that’s when it became, the game is a rough game but we aim at the ball not at the opponent’s leg. But what do you do specifically and how we can make it tangible? And then we went into the whole process. But I think the personal inspiration comes from family values. But from many people I think we were lacking and we were ready for some people like Guilherme Leal and Natura and some other people to come up and say, listen, there is a different way of doing business here and they can be very successful and that there is no reason for you to think that there is need to compromise.

 

Walter Link

 

What were some of these turning points for you?

 

Fabio Barbosa

 

One interesting situation that happened as I was studying in Switzerland – I did an MBA there – and on a certain day a guy came – we had some tasks on that particular day and the guy came and it was a European and he had a tan. And people asked him, what were you doing yesterday? He said, no, I was sailing because it was a beautiful day. And then the colleagues criticized him. How come you were sailing on a day like yesterday when we had a test today and there was a lot to be done? And I was shocked by that scene which I have very clear in my mind because I said, had it happened in Brazil people would have said, he did it right because I had several times actually studied for some test and I was almost ashamed of saying that I had studied. And these people had asked me, did you study for the test? I would probably have said – I’m sure I said – no, I did not. Actually I had. But not to be socially condemned I would say, no, I had not.

 

So when I saw that situation that the guy which had sailed was being criticized by the group and seeing myself to some extent censored and not being able to spell out that I had studied, I saw that it was a cultural clash and that actually we had an inversion of values where people in Brazil were ashamed of saying that they had put an effort behind what they were doing. And that I had myself also got me to that. But that was not right. That was not the natural way. The natural way was to go and say, yes, I did study. So when I came back and I had a career in banking and so on, I said, no, I will make it a point. Yes, I did study, yes I did do things, yes, I’m dedicated and I worked hard. And not like the people – like I had myself in the past. No, I did not study. And why was I saying that because, socially speaking, this was not a value. Studying and preparing yourself for something was not a value. And I think today it’s much better already. But I think if you are looking here for some initiation point where it really started, it started around this instance and experiences.

 

Walter Link

 

So how did it start with you that you were different from the young people in your generation in Brazil? What was the source of you having this kind of seriousness of purpose?

 

Fabio Barbosa

 

It’s difficult to say but it probably has to do with family values. It has to do a DNA, it has to do with experiences that I had in my life, positive experiences. But a very strict family certainly came around that. But what surprised me over time is that I thought we were few. And I learned later on that we were many, but we were very quiet because we felt that the pressure of the ones which were always convincing. And in Brazil you have the state of (jeitinho) which is a word which means sneaking around. It’s a value in Brazilian society. So what jeitinho, they have a good connotation in some instance. But it has another bad connotation which is, results without effort. That’s basically what it means. And people in Brazil are very proud of that. So if you were not the ones looking for that path, you were not the smart one on the bad connotation of the word smart. And because I was never smart I was just denying to the others the tough path that I was following until I found out that there was no reason for me to do that. And I think today, again, it’s changing substantially.

 

You know Brazil a little and you know it has not changed entirely. But it has changed. I normally make a statement also that Brazil needs many reforms like many other countries around the world. Political reform, maybe welfare, state reform and tax reform. But we need, like I say, a reform of values. We have to rethink our values and make sure that we put transparency as the number one value that we offer the work. And that’s why I like the expression that, turn on the lights, there’s no on and off. And maybe that explains also because in my career as a natural evolution I ended up in media. Because I think the media puts light on important issues so that everybody can see what’s happening. And I think we have a lot to gain when things are done on the daylight and not on the shadows of a small street, lost somewhere in the world. I like the idea and that’s why I intend to continue shedding lights on how things are done and not only on the results. I think society sometimes focuses too much on results and not enough on how this is being done. And the question on how is extremely important and I can see the young generation questioning a lot more. It’s not what you’re doing, it’s how you’re doing and what kind of feedback are you leaving to the others. As we several times discussed. Things which are done today will have an impact on several stakeholders and are you considering that on what you do or it doesn’t matter? And it is amazing how you can mobilize people by making these questions and having them make their own reflections.

 

So people are largely of good intentions but most things have never really been thought out. And when you ask them to think over, you see new ideas, inspiration. Again, the driver initially was people are doing that for convenience or doing that because it’s politically correct. But with the idea that they were somehow leaving some money on the table. That was 10, 20 years ago when sustainability started. Maybe 10 years ago, not even 20. Today it’s totally different. People see that as inspiration, as business opportunities. They don’t see it as politically correct. Only they do it out of conviction. And they have the market also rewarding that. Are we where we have to be? The answer is no. But have we moved in the right direction? I think the answer is, yes, we have.

 

Walter Link

 

You bring up a very interesting point that maybe you started out doing what you were doing due to discipline. The discipline of wanting to learn and to succeed in school. But as we know, discipline alone doesn’t give you the power to succeed. And that somewhere you also found a deep conviction. A conviction that you wanted to make a difference and in order to make a difference it took this kind of serious commitment and it wasn’t enough to just play around. So how did you go from this place of being more disciplined and learning and a good student, to finding inside yourself the power that gave you the possibility to do the many things you did which require incredible personal power to be the chairman of banks and run large media organizations and things like that?

 

Fabio Barbosa

 

It’s interesting because the discipline – and I’m a disciplined person as we were discussing – I am normally very punctual and I care about that which is not even normal in Brazil. And I care about being right on time and I always did that. That’s how I got the nickname here of the Swiss because I’m always on time. But when I started working – and for many reasons and chances also plays a role in those things – but the fact was my career was doing well and succeeding. And it really got – and always without compromising, always doing things the way that I did but without the power that you are referring to. But when I joined ABN/Amro in 1995 and in 1996 I became the president of the bank, that probably was another turning point in my life. I said, listen, it’s a small bank and on the occasion we started it was 2000 or 3000 people and at the end we were 50,000 at the end of this process of 15 years at the bank. But I said, you know what? I am president of the bank and I have never compromised. So my point is being proved.

 

We can succeed doing the right thing in the right way and I will make it a point for the others to see that. Also because when I was promoted, some guy made a comment like that said, oh, I can imagine the issues you have to go through and the compromise you have to go through in your life in order to get that position. And I said, see, that’s exactly what I did not do. If I don’t say that, people will admit. Why do they do that? In my opinion, people undermine the success here in Brazil. Less in the United States, but in Brazil a lot. They undermine – in Europe a little bit also – it just almost making you feel guilty or saying, listen, you are there because you compromised on things that I would not have compromised. And therefore they don’t envy you, they don’t try to get to where you are and therefore society gets a different kind of performance and profile so to speak. But I made it a point and said, no I did not. I got a little bit offended by that. I did not. And I will make it a point and I will say, I will spell this out. And then it starts. Okay, but you are in a bank. And that’s why I say, we went on several fronts. What do we do with our suppliers? Who do we lend money to? Do we care what they do with our money? Oh, we care about the impact they cause on the environment. Okay, but do we cause any impact on the environment ourselves? So why don’t we clean up our house first and then we go to the client and say – and then people will say, oh, that makes sense.

 

Actually, the strength of my conviction came also from the fact that the arguments are difficult to be countered, to be contested. It’s very difficult to raise your hand and say, I’m against it. It’s very difficult. There are so many obvious things to be done. And that’s not again if I may mention once more, Natura, Natura, Guilherme Leal which you also had a contact with, he was able also to identify that there were parts of the market which would very much welcome products which would have a certain kind of message with which you identify yourself. And now I’m very glad to see that the young generation, when they are looking to which companies they are going to work for, they want to know what values that the company has. But that was not the case in the past. People didn’t care. It was just the way things are. And now people are questioning the way things are. People are saying, I want to work with a company with which I share values. But if you had mentioned that 10, 20 years ago, it was very crazy.

 

That’s why I say, we may not have left a better world for our young people but we did leave better children for the world. They question things that we did not question. Normally I say, my parents and grandparents would throw trash on the street because that’s the way things were. Not proper trash but maybe a cigarette and so on. I never did and my kids would kill someone who does it. So that’s a clear evolution in three generations of someone who did not care. But plus, it was not an issue and now it is an issue. So I would say the conviction comes from the fact that you can have the success and you can grow up in your life, in your career, in your professional and personal life without having to compromise and without having to go into certain dilemmas or borders which you should not go, you should not test those borders. And there’s enough room for you to build lots of things without going to that.

 

And I think that is what people are seeing today that is not only possible but it’s better in several aspects. And that’s why I think the conviction within myself just grew because all of a sudden I saw, this is not a marginal, it’s a central process. And by the way, I see more and more people supporting that. And then people ask me, but, don’t you feel the pressure because I spelled this out. And I’m talking here for half an hour and talking about being strict which means that some people will try to say, Fabio says that, but look at what is happening maybe at the bank or at this company that I joined only two or three months ago, it’s still not happening. But it will happen at some point in time. People question me. And I say, listen, if you have any wrongdoing that you identify, come and let me know. I’m not in favor of that. Some of them may be people are having the wrong interpretation and we’ll try to make people understand how it works. Some of them are wrong and we have to correct. But that goes into my personal life and that’s where I also understood that there is no on and off and I have seen many leaders, sometimes they fail exactly on that because people believe that you have to behave properly why we were in this stage doing something. But when you were in your personal life you should not because then you are off. You are not off, you are on all the time. And I like very much – there is an American philosopher, Ralph Emerson, who says, your attitudes speak so loud that I cannot hear what you say. This was the guide in my life. It’s what you do, it’s not what you say.

 

So regardless of what I’m saying here, regardless of what the words maybe I am using here and the reason why we’re talking is because there are actions behind which support what I’m saying or basically what I’m saying here is just stressing things which are being done. Actually, we never talked about many of the initiatives we had at Banco Real which was where sustainability really started on a large scale. It was a Brazilian initiative although we were part of a Dutch company. We decided, until we have cleaned up our house, we will not go and spell this out because people will come and say, you say that but you are doing it totally different. And until we had something really built strong – and of course mistakes will happen all the time – but until we had it clearly understood by the majority of the people, we would not do it. So we decided to first build it internally, get it strong and then go to the market and talk about it, bring other banks together with it, bring other companies and then go to the process that we mentioned earlier in this discussion which I referred to the exposure or to the exchange of ideas I think is better with the 2000 to 3000 companies discussing what are the particularities and specificities of their business and how to bring this concepts on the day-to-day business.

 

Walter Link

 

In talking with you of course we can feel your passion and I think that many people, many companies talk about values and all the wonderful value statements that are there but they remain words on an empty page that nobody thinks about it much anymore. So in this work with the Triodos Bank program we developed the term of living values, of something that really sinks in and, as you said, that doesn’t have an off switch. You really feel it and you are living it and you are of course struggling to live it because it’s always difficult to live something as general as a value. But it seems like you found this power somehow. And often it’s hard for people, especially in the sustainability movement or the new way of society movements, the various that are there, to talk about power. Because power is somehow associated with the old, with destruction and with difficulty. But it also seems to me that without power these values are not empowered. They cannot really transform the world.

 

Fabio Barbosa

 

I would like to make one comment on this. People ask me all the time, what are values, what is ethics? And I say, I am not a philosopher so I cannot properly discuss it. But I have a very easy guide. If you can comment at the dinner table with your parents or children, probably it was ethical. If you cannot, probably it was not. But the joke I want to make is that you can make it simple, you don’t have to think. You know at the end, given your set of values, what is acceptable and what is not. Of course, this concept isn’t valid for 100% because some people find that things that are not acceptable can be discussed. But for the vast majority. And I was always against having a code of behavior because I think what you have is to have consciousness properly built and understanding properly built and therefore people will be able to see whether those attitudes or those behaviors match or do not match that set of values and understandings. But to say you cannot do A, B, and C and you can do D, E and F is very difficult to do this. So I prefer that we go in that way. And in terms of the power, I think the world also has changed. That we are no longer talking about the command-and-control. So it’s not an order. People which have a very well-prepared new generation with the social media and Facebook and you name it, Twitter and so on, they communicate all the time. These people will not take orders easily. They have to have an understanding of what they are doing and actually the best word for that, they are looking for a meaning on what they’re doing.

 

And I think there are very good articles saying meaning is the new money for the new generation. Meaning with understanding is that they want to have meaning from what they are doing and that is part of their remuneration, of their rewarding in what they are devoting their time to. So I think that that is why I’m very optimistic because I think the world actually is a lot more conscious and we went far away now from the concept that the good behavior is the giveback. You know, make a million and you donate 10%, 5%, 20%, 50% and that is what you do. No. That changed entirely. The way you make the one million is very relevant. And giving back is almost like having a consciousness of someone guilty – I should not have made that money, let’s give it back. If you make it properly I think it has lots of nice virtues on the fact that you are helping and donating and so on. But I think, how have you made that money and have you built around you good impacts or have you destroyed things? This matters a lot. So I normally make a joke for smuggling drugs and you donate the money. It has no value. I just made something radical but of course there are many more gray areas on this. And that is very important. I think that is what the new generation is after. And hiring people today and hiring good people has to do with values. They ask me when I have interviews, they ask me what are the values of the company. Not values on this word – what are the beliefs? What impact are you causing on society? How do you care about this and that? Which were questions that are never did when I started working and never thought about asking these questions. You just go to a company and just play by the rules of that company. Today, no, they want to know what they are doing and why and what you care about. So they’re looking for meaning in what they’re doing. And therefore I’m optimistic for the future of the world.

 

Walter Link

 

You bring up something that we talked about before which is, you say that when you are developing people in your bank that you were looking for them to become more and more capable to respond creatively and ethically to a situation, that it wasn’t possible, the world was much too complex and fast-changing to train behaviors or to train certain rules. But to empower the person to become more and more able to just respond and act from that responsiveness.

 

Fabio Barbosa

 

We talked a moment ago about some specific situations which really were very important throughout this process. And given your comment, I will bring another one. Which shows how much the leadership role is evolving as compared to the past. And the situation I want to describe is at a certain day, all the activities have to go through somebody from consulting company came in saying, here is your profile and your profile is strong on points A, B and C. And D, E and F are weak points or something. I already have a problem with that because I don’t think people have strong or weak points. People have a profile which is good or bad depending on what you do in which company, which moment and which team you are getting into. So I don’t think people have weak spots. It’s a very subtle but very important concept. People have profiles. What is good in one situation may be bad in another and what is weak here maybe strong there. But then he said it would be important that in your behavior you would pay attention to points D and F for instance. And that moment was one of those situations which were really a turning point in my life. I said, you know what? We have a tremendous gap here. You want me to become a better manager, and I said to him, and I want to become a better man. And I will not become a better manager if I don’t become a better man. So why we are talking about behavior? I will tell you that behaviors are just an externalization of what I am. And it will take me years to change that. And then, as a joke, to make this conversation softer, I said, now I understand why actors make so much money. Because they have an ability that I will never have which is, behave this way, be nice, be rough, be funny, be serious or play dead or play smart. And they do. Fantastic. They should be very well paid. I cannot. I am just a mortal and I am a simple human being. I cannot do those things. So I think we have to work on the development of the people, the command-and-control. The idea that I will give an order and you will behave the way I want you to behave. I don’t think it has ever worked. But if it has worked, it was for a different society, not for the society of today.

 

Walter Link

 

What is an organization like Triodos that is a unique contribution to this ecosystem?

 

Fabio Barbosa

 

I really don’t know the answer. That’s too complex. I think there is value in being a reference. I think there is value and you are a reference to us so there is value.

 

Walter Link

 

When I spoke with you at the time when we brought the Triodos Bank people with you, you said that Triodos was a reference for you. It’s an important sustainability bank in Europe. But in comparison to the banks that you have been running here, and especially also in the emerging markets, it’s a very different bank. How is it a reference for you? What do you get from that?

 

Fabio Barbosa

 

Actually, we pay a price, all of us and Triodos also pay a price of being in the front run of a new movement. So I think I say, uncharted waters. You don’t know exactly where you are. So whenever we started doing that out of conviction and people, especially in the banking system, would ask me, why are you talking about those things? These are not proper vocabulary for the business we are in. And today everybody is in this game by the way. And because also they had the same ideas. It was just a matter of, again, being able to say, I do believe in this as opposed to not saying anything like some examples I referred to a moment ago. But then I said, I would not like to be by myself in any place because it’s like being in the road at night and looking behind and nobody is following you. My God, where am I? Am I the only one right here? And I think that never happened because we have some other companies here in Brazil already which were on that and we were the forefront of this movement. And Triodos always came to me and said, see, there is someone doing it in another part of the world, different society, different culture. But doing more or less the same things as we intend to do here or some of them we were more advanced, some of them we were less advanced. So for us it was something like, this is in the banking system, it’s looking to things that we’re looking at, it’s being recognized as a reference and therefore is another evidence that, although we have never talked before – it’s not that we started because of Triodos or Triodos started because of us. We never talked. We were just byproduct of a movement or a moment that society was leading it. And therefore some ideas, I say, synchronization. Synchronized. Things happen in different parts of the world even though we have not agreed to do those things. So to me it became as a very important reference and I used it many times that, no, we are not alone, there are other instances around the world and Triodos was one of them.

 

Walter Link

 

Now you took over the helm of a large media company. What is your vision for the role of the media in changing the world? Because often the media of course is very criticized in being sensationalist and kind of running more behind the news rather than helping to make the news in terms of a new society, more sustainability, more justice, more transparency.

 

Fabio Barbosa

 

My rationale has always been that the media has a very important role in society. I’m not talking about the issues digital and so on which are operational problems of the media which are a very, very important part of our time. Being the transformation that’s going on online and the Internet and so on. But that’s not what we are talking about here. What we’re talking about here is the relevance of media in society. And I believe we have two major roles. Number one is reinforcing the institutions and number two is forming values. And by what you do, by what you say, by what you don’t say, you are somehow forming and influencing society. So I believe that, given my strong convictions of the kind of values that should be the north that we have. Given also the values that I saw in this company I discussed so much about meaning, about an identity of values, of course I’m coming here because I identify myself to the values of this company. But I believe that for the future more and more the media has the responsibility of conveying the right values, reinforcing the institutions properly. And that’s a fantastic platform in terms of multiplying it. It multiplies a lot more than the bank and the bank multiplies. But the criticism that comes – you are going to do that and the banking are the same that I see now but in a media company. And actually I don’t see any paradox on that. I think actually the banks, it’s interesting because I realized in the middle of the game that banks, they are connected to every single sector of society. Probably more than any other sector. Let’s say if you are in the steel industry. It’s very big, very large. But you don’t talk necessarily to the guy who is in the agriculture business somewhere else. Maybe that is not the best example but understanding the banks talk to everybody. So you have an ability to influence. But more than that, the media has even more because you are actually talking and this company has a tremendous presence and influence in the country and I hope that I would be able to join the effort which has been going on to really disseminate proper values and shed the lights on what to believe ought to be understood by everybody bringing proper values behind this responsibility that comes for the media. I’m very happy with the possibility.

 

Walter Link

 

There is a certain lack of the humanity and people hunger for something that is more complete, more human.

 

Fabio Barbosa

 

I will just say from here, I wrote an article in the newspaper recently and I said, as a joke, I said I am very frustrated because I have never been able to hire professionals. Good professionals. The person always came together with the professional. And I said, – again as a joke – I just want the guy to be the teller and receiving the check and giving the cash – and, again, making a joke around that. And the person came together and the person had frustration, had dreams, had desires, had problems at home, which came together. And that’s the beauty of the leadership is that you are not dealing with professionals. You are dealing with people which are integral and maybe the word integrity comes exactly from this integral meaning everything is in there. And I think sometimes, as I see in Europe and the United States, talking about human, talking about emotions is like, that’s not about – that’s not proper business vocabulary. People here are supposed to be professional. People just come together. I’m here talking to you and of course I had everything here. My soccer team played well this morning and I’m happy because of that. My family is doing well, my daughter is coming, I had a meeting with this and I promoted a guy and I have maybe to fire someone – which is not the case, fortunately – but if you tour, everything would be here. Which of course has an impact on my behavior. And I’m accepting that and saying that you really have to touch people on their emotional side together with their rational and professional and make this an integral product. An integral situation where people are there with their integrity, with everything. And not only with their minds but their soul and heart and mind together working on the same direction. I think that’s what we have here in Brazil, largely. Being emotional does not make you a less qualified professional. It makes you as qualified as anyone and maybe not recognizing that people have emotions and trying to bring to the professional, to the executive community, the idea that this is to be hidden certainly is, in my opinion, is a flaw of the system. People work and they bring their anxieties – either here or in China or in Korea or in Siberia or the United States or in Europe or in Argentina or in Brazil. We have people and we have emotions. I think in Brazil we play probably with this idea that we are dealing with integrity and this is not to be ashamed of.

 

Walter Link

 

We moved from industrial materialism towards an idea of sustainable materialism. Better technology, better financing, more transparency. But there has to be something that goes beyond the materialism. Even the good materialism, so to say, into the full humanity. We’re not just our bodies, we’re not just things, we are living, breathing souls that have passions and look for meaning and of course we need to satisfy our physical needs but they are just part of the picture.

 

Fabio Barbosa

 

And just to provoke, I have a book which I have handed over to many people which was by Domenico Demazi which says, and Descartes was wrong. So they say the world was not Cartesian to the extent that some people want to put it in my opinion. That would be a different argument but that’s the beauty of life, by the way, different arguments. In my opinion is not Cartesian. Of course they put lots of order in the world but having said that, this is not the entire truth. There is more behind it and that is one thing that I find fascinating. Maybe we can have another conversation one day to explore that.

 

Walter Link

 

On our website, www.globalleadership.tv, you will find additional footage, other dialogues with innovation leaders from around the world and also the hands-on practices that help them and their organizations to move from inspiration to real change.