Why you should care
Because trendy startups may be hogging the spotlight, but these less glamorous mega-corporations are driving Brazil’s economic supersurge.
Despite notoriously clogged bureaucratic arteries, Brazil is fertile soil for a blooming startup scene. But in order to better appreciate the hot new foot soliders, you’ve got to know the caudillos of classic Brazilian capitalism. What these industry leaders lack in sex appeal, they make up for in sheer power and influence. Chances are, the meat in an American hamburger, the iron ore in a Chinese skyscraper and the jet flying you from Berlin to Munich have one thing in common – their companies are featured here:
Industry: Food processing
CEO: Wesley Mendoça Batista
Size: $41bn revenue (2013); 190,000 employees
Recent Moves: Over the past decade, the world’s largest meatpacker (with 22 percent of U.S. beef production) has been on a voracious feeding frenzy. For starters, JBS gobbled up the third and fifth largest American beef producers — Swift Foods in 2007 (for $1.3bn) and Smithfield in 2008 (for $565 million) — then it diversified and injested the biggest U.S. poultry producer, Pilgrim’s Pride, in 2009 (for $880 million), its largest domestic challenger, Grupo Bertin, and — for dessert — the Brazilian and Mexican poultry operations of its biggest international competitor, Tyson Foods, in late July of this year. The undisputed champ of worldwide butchery, JBS slaughters 5,000 head of cattle, 70,000 hogs and 12 million chicken — each day.
Industry: Metals and mining
CEO: Murilo Pinto de Oliveira Ferreira
Size: $172bn valuation (2011); 85,000 employees
Recent Moves: The biggest company nobody knows, Vale was catapulted to number two in the global mining market on the back of ferocious Chinese demand. Now the world’s largest producer of iron ore, Vale was the 2012 people’s choice for the Public Eye ‘Award’ (aka the Oscar of Shame) for being the corporation with the greatest “contempt for the environment and human rights” after backing the Belo Monte Project, a dam that is projected to displace 40,000 people. Ignominious distinctions aside, the future success of the company will be determined by the continuing prosperity of China (which accounts for 50 percent of Vale’s exports).
Industry: Aerospace and defense
CEO: Frederico Fleury Curado
Size: $5.7bn revenue (2013); 18,000 employees
Recent Moves: The world’s third largest aircraft maker (behind Boeing and Airbus) is duking it out with Canada’s Bombardier for controlling foothold in the regional jet market. Bombardier appears wobbly, selling only 27 to Embraer’s 272 aircraft last year. Kicking the Canadians while they were down, Embraer announced a $1.87-billion deal with Azul (same founder as JetBlue) in mid-July as the up-and-coming airline launches its Brazil-U.S. connection. With large airlines hesitant to venture into larger regional jets (the middle ground between regional jets (Embraer’s specialty) and jumbo-jets), Embraer is in a stellar position to capitalize on growing demand, but emerging competitors like Mitsubishi will ensure it’s no cakewalk.
CEO: Roberto Irineu Marinho
Size: $7.2bn revenue (2013); 15,000 employees
Recent Moves: Newspapers, magazines, radio, TV — if it’s media in Brazil, it’s probably Globo that you’re consuming. In a country so vast and diverse, reaching 99.5 percent of the population is nothing less than extraordinary, and has allowed the company unparalled influence over public opinion (though not without backlash). Although competition is more abundant nowadays, approximately 91 million people (just under half of the total population) watch the Rede Globo television network every day. Those are Super Bowl Sunday stats, on the regular. The next closest competitor scrapes by on a measly 13-percent market share. Does that blowout even need a Super Bowl reference?
Industry: Oil and gas
CEO: Maria das Graças Foster
Size: $141bn revenue (2014); 80,500 employees
Recent Moves: The majority government-owned company is a global leader in offshore drilling, and it enjoyed a complete monopoly over oil reserves in Brazil (the 12th largest oil producer in the world) until 1999. That’s a serious headstart – which it’s used to expand into the rest of South America and achieve oil independence for Brazil. Between 2007 and 2008, Petrobras reportedly found three oil mega-fields. To finance its deep-sea exploration habit, the corporation scored $67 billion after selling shares publicly in the largest-ever market capitalization in the world. But investors have since balked due to insufficient technology to access the reserves and rising debt, causing some to claim Petrobras is now “a shadow of its former self.” However, the reserves are not going anywhere, so if Petrobras can stop the financial bleeding and continue to develop partnerships with foreign companies (who have the technological capabilities) expect the Brazilian giant to come back with a vengeance.