"A company should never become an island of prosperity in the middle of an archipelago of poverty. For us, it’s not morally acceptable to generate money in a poor country and simply leave. Our business strategy is that we will only survive, grow, and perpetuate our mission and enterprise if our wealth is shared. "
Q: What role do construction and infrastructure companies play in the development of Brazil?
A: Infrastructure companies are essential for the future of our country, as they are the ones allowing growth to actually happen. Though Brazil is a great producer, it doesn’t capitalize (on that) because we lack infrastructure, proper transportation, and so forth. We are one of the world’s largest agricultural nations, but, again, due to infrastructure limitations, storage and distribution issues prevent us from making the most of these rich agricultural resources. There is food, but it’s not as abundant as it should be. Conceptually, this summarizes Brazil’s infrastructural burden. We fail to transform our production into wealth because we have difficulty transporting it from place to place.
That’s why companies like Odebrecht are so important. If we don’t build the infrastructure Brazil needs, we’ll always be a country split in two: Half will develop and the other half will always struggle. For a nation of this magnitude that has been relatively united historically, that is an unacceptable outcome. Brazil’s ethnic diversity is incredible, yet territorial conflicts have been minimal; we have maintained our culture; we are largely unified by a common language; and our way of life is absolutely distinct. That balance is something we have to preserve.
Q: Given this context, what is Odebrecht’s mission?
A: Our mission is to grow our capabilities and invest in the development of Brazil and the countries we operate. We believe private initiatives can help solve many of our struggles. Yet the public and private sector must work together. Odebrecht is doing its part with transparency and intelligence. For instance, we’re diversifying and expanding our fields of expertise. Today, we can go from simple construction to very complex, heavy, and technological projects such as a nuclear energy station. At the same time, we are learning new practices like sanitation and water treatment. In fact, we have an environmental branch that services 10 million people everyday.
When it comes to urban mobility, Brazil’s struggles worsen. As specialists in building highways, railroads, metro lines, and so forth, we’re doing our best to change this scenario and aligning our work with governmental strategies. Today, our main commitment is to help solve some of Brazil’s most challenging issues.
Q: The relationship between private and public initiatives can be tricky for brands to navigate. How are you maintaining Odebrecht’s reliability while operating in both sectors?
A: Trust is the principle we value the most, and Odebrecht is built around it. We wish the same for Brazil. The relationship between society and the public sector will never be constructive if it’s surrounded by distrust, doubt and skepticism. Our commitment is to serve the nations. In all the countries in which we operate, we serve the state, not the government. We try to separate things, but it’s seldom easy. Thus, we strive to be transparent with the public in each of the countries we serve and communicate our objectives and development plans. Our principles are timeless, universal, and noble. We want society to see them being put to practice everyday.
Q: Odebrecht strives to be one of the 50 most admired companies in the world. How do you picture the path towards this goal? And what is the process by which you will make your brand global?
A: Primarily, we have to be very cohesive and send a clear message regarding our philosophy and tactics. We should not be perceived as one thing and do something completely different. We want people who interact with our brand to see clear representations of our beliefs and values.
As we are built around trust, before being admired, we want to be trusted. Yet, trust is the result of a process in which people start to learn about us and about what we do. Thus, our communication strategies have to be very effective. We’re sure that people who learn about us will begin to admire our brand.
Our goal of becoming one of the 50 most admired companies in the world is dependent on where we’re positioned at a given time. There are three stages in the process. First: Creating global awareness. We’ve been working on this. Second: Being recognized. And third: Assessing the level of recognition we’re receiving. We don’t want to be recognized in Bahia alone. Our goal is to become globally known.
Being established around the world will help us clarify how far we can go. We’re still considered a company of the Southern Hemisphere. Here, we’re one of the 20 most admired companies. Nonetheless, we’re not one of the 50 most admired in the world yet, and that’s because most of those companies belong to the Northern Hemisphere.
Q: Any plans to venture north?
A: Yes. In fact, we’re already present in the United States in four important areas: Engineering, Energy, Sanitation, and Petrochemicals, with Odebrecht now America’s top polyethylene producer.
Q: Inevitably, Odebrecht is an ambassador for Brazil abroad. How can the company help improve and clarify the image of our country internationally?
A: That’s a topic we always think about. When a company ventures abroad, especially a service provider, its activities automatically start to represent its country of origin. So, this is an extra commitment we must consider. If any problems occur, people will directly associate it with Brazil. Moreover, we already bring along all the positive and negative attributes, associations, and stereotypes of Brazil.
On the other hand, we always strive to take a local approach in the nations and communities where we operate. We are increasingly learning about the culture and interacting with the local people. We truly believe that our approach is helping improve the image of Brazil abroad.
Q: Tell us about some of Odebrecht’s projects abroad.
A: I think our most renowned project in the U.S. is the Miami airport. We built two enormous terminals and the entire internal transportation system. We also built the Performing Arts Center of Miami, a structure that makes us really proud. In Portugal, we did the Vasco da Gama Bridge, which is a national symbol. Technologically, our biggest challenge was building the Lisbon metro system. Lisbon’s ground is very irregular and requires very exact and thoughtful engineering. And we also built the Cinta Costera in Panama, another beautiful, symbolic and renowned project.
Q: Odebrecht is or was present in nations during military conflicts. How does the company work to guarantee the security of your people and partners?
A: We were working in Libya when the civil war began. In three days, we removed 4,000 people from the country, who were building some of Libya’s most emblematic constructions. Everyone was taken home without wounds or severe distresses. That was only possible because we position our collaborators at the center of everything we do, and also because our collaborators live by our values and beliefs. Among the 4,000, we also counted on the help of our Libyan collaborators, who were very cooperative with us throughout the entire evacuation process. Our Libyan collaborators stayed in the country to help preserve all our projects and patrimony during the war.
In addition, Odebrecht was the first foreign company to set foot in Angola after 20 years of civil war. When its independence was declared, in 1976, we helped rebuild the nation. Our work went beyond engineering. We also assisted the people psychologically and socially. Today we have 15 thousand collaborators in Angola, of which only 500 are Brazilians. Our Angolan collaborators have improved their educational and professional level qualifications through programs we have implemented since we first arrived. Today we employ Angolan engineers, managers, and people specialized in technology and other extremely technical tasks. The Angolan government recognizes Odebrecht as a great partner, and their people have embraced our company.
Q: Is that why you believe that Corporate Citizenship is at the heart of your brand strategy?
A: Exactly. We strive to provide more than services to our clients and to go beyond our specialties. We serve to generate both material and ethical capital. Material capital is only legitimate if shared. Our brand proposition involves sharing our resources with the client, society, partners and stakeholders.
A company should never become an island of prosperity in the middle of an archipelago of poverty. For us, it’s not morally acceptable to generate money in a poor country and simply leave. Our business strategy is that we will only survive, grow, and perpetuate our mission and enterprise if our wealth is shared. Our goal in Angola, for example, is to contribute to a healthier and more prosperous society. We want Angolans to be users and consumers of our services. That’s what will make Odebrecht live on.