It is always encouraging to hear of those who, through hard work and pure drive, have been able to rise in the modern corporate world from the bottom of a company to the heights of its executive suite. It is precisely because such stories are so rare in the modern business world that they can grasp imaginations. These tales are almost a lottery narrative for the intelligent. With just the right set of circumstances and proper character traits, you too can be a big winner.
And like the narratives that lottery players tell themselves in order to justify the hundreds of dollars they spend on losing bets, many of us who want to view the corporate world as fair or at least meritocratic spin stories to maintain our belief that hard work, talent and a passion for our jobs might be all it really takes to enjoy the highest levels of success in business.
So we look for the diamond in the ruff – that one story out of 1,000 of someone who was really able to climb the corporate ladder all the way to the top through nothing but skillful use of their god-given faculties. But too often upon close inspection, even these rare stories of pure meritocratic success turn out to be a bit more nuanced than our internal narratives might take into account.
One such example is the rise of Luiz Carlos Trabuco, CEO of Bradesco, one of the largest banks in Brazil. Starting out with the firm, as a bank teller, in 1969, Trabuco had only a high school diploma and no job experience at all. From the banking-world equivalent of the mail room, he was able to almost immediately begin climbing through the ranks. Proving himself to be both a diligent worker and talented administrator, he was consistently promoted up through the chain of command, eventually reaching the level of regional manager by the late 1970s. He was also able to put himself completely through college during this time, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in social psychology.
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Trabuco was given his first executive role at the bank in 1984, when he was appointed the firm’s director of marketing department. There, he again proved himself an able leader, increasing sales and elevating the company’s public image to levels that it had never before enjoyed.
It wasn’t until 1992 that Trabuco first began having a profound influence on the way in which his bank did business. In that year, he was appointed president of the firm’s financial planning unit. By this time an expert on global finance, Trabuco quickly moved to throw out the old, egalitarian banking model that the bank had long clung to. He created a stratified system where the richest customers got the bulk of the bank’s attention, with separate luxury facilities, personal banking and lavish rewards. While this strategy assigned class levels to customers within the bank for the first time, it also proved enormously successful. Bradesco quickly attracted some of the wealthiest clients in Brazil.
As he continually moved towards the position of CEO, driving sales through the roof in each unit he commanded, Trabuco started increasingly adopting globalist, class-conscious policies. He began the practice of recruiting upper management from only outside the firm, ironically making it almost impossible for anyone to repeat the career path that had marked his own personal rise through the ranks. He also began emphasizing formal educational credentials, likewise making it difficult for those without college degrees to get jobs, even as tellers.
Trabuco has been enormously successful in his career with Bradesco. It is, then, somewhat ironic that, as a result of his influence, if he were 18 again and looking for a job, he almost certainly would not even have been hired in the first place, much less able to rise to CEO.
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