“Liking challenges” is somewhat of a cliché in the corporate world. But how can you avoid this common jargon when an executive effectively stands out due to his extraordinary drive in adverse situations? In the case of Tivit's CEO, Luiz Mattar, it is possible to challenge commonplaces by observing his performance outside the office. More precisely, on the tennis court. That was the place where Nico — Mattar's nickname during the ten years when he was considered the fourth best Brazilian tennis player ever, according to the global ranking of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) — revealed his main characteristic: playing better under pressure. “When the game was too easy I would lose interest in either losing or winning. There were people more talented than I was, but my game stood out when it got more difficult”, he says.
With a concentration that gives him a serious look, Mattar relaxes and smiles when asked if the “game” is difficult enough for him at Tivit, which premiered on the stock market on September 25th of last year and, only four days later, suffered a 13% drop in share price. “Yes, our challenges are great enough”, he promptly answers. “In addition to our technology services business, which has been going on for ten years, we now have a new baby which is the Tivit brand as a publicly-held company, which needs to grow up strong, healthy and with the spirit of a sportsman”, adds the CEO, who still plays tennis with friends like Jaime Oncins on weekends, 15 years after ending his professional career.
The transition from Nico to Luiz, or from the tennis courts to the corporate world, was easier than he had expected. Mattar was married, wanted to have children and his prize money after winning 12 ATP Tours came to US$1.5 million; he also felt exhausted due to constant traveling. “I wanted to rest”, he says. “Tennis requires so much from the athlete, who feels the ranking pressure every week. I knew the problems of transitioning from a sports into an ordinary life, which dozens of my friends had to face, but luckily I didn't have to experience it.” The long-expected sabbatical year only lasted two months, after he was invited to be a partner in a small beer factory called Dado Bier, in São Paulo. “My first entrepreneurial adventure was a success”, he remembers, pointing out that the entrepreneurial spirit of his family, owner of centenarian company Paramount Têxteis, had not manifested itself previously in him.
The second entrepreneurial opportunity was the embryo of Tivit. It was 1999, when the internet boom led Mattar to found Telefutura, along with two partners, focused on providing support services for websites, chats, e-mail and call centers. “We started from scratch, we carried all the furniture and computers”, he tells. After a while, he felt as fulfilled as an entrepreneur as when he was a professional athlete. "It is great to look back and see the company's growth, after so much personal involvement.” The fast expansion of the business was permitted by the participation of two new partners — Votorantim group and Banco Pátria. In 2007, the merger with another company of the same group helped shape the current characteristics of Tivit's business, whose revenues in 2009 reached R$1 billion.
Mattar was upset with the postponement of his plans to have the company's IPO in 2007, due to the global crisis, but he did not let it get to him. He faced this setback as a new challenge to be overcome. As CEO he opted for an organic expansion, which is “cheaper and safer”, and today he believes those “two years of maturation” were positive. “We became more selective and changed our growth profile.” Also in his personal life, Mattar was able to mature first and then take chances more safely, since his professional career in tennis started when he was only 21 years old, when he decided to drop out of the civil engineering course of the Mackenzie university. “My dad was really surprised, but then he supported me and became my biggest fan.”
Many of his admirers from sports ask him what his career would have been like if it had started earlier, since tennis players usually start their careers at the age of 17 to 21. “Honestly, I believe I would have been a better player, but the fact is that I wasn't mature enough to play when I was 17”, says Mattar, who, at the time, chose to go to university, even though he was ranked among the five best young tennis players in the country. “I didn't really think I had much of a choice. 25 years ago, the importance of sports within society was different.”
Today, the importance of sport is very clear to the executive, whose “number-one mission” is to teach it to all of his three sons, aged between 6 and 11: “I want to teach them every sport I know. But I won't recommend that they be professionals. I would rather that they see sports as a model of discipline and persistence.” This is the model to which he attributes his achievements, either as the popular Nico or as Luiz, the executive who loves challenges. “But I like to solve new problems”, he emphasizes. “Old and recurring problems bother me.” When it comes to demanding results, Mattar reveals he has a “small fault”: impatience. Nothing too explosive, according to his fiends, as long as he has played sports in the morning. “If I spend two days without doing any sports, people will tell me to go sweat a bit and come back later”, he admits.
Sports routine – When I was a child, I played handball, soccer, tennis, volleyball and swam. Today, I have a daily routine that varies between gymnastics, running, soccer and tennis.
Favorite program – Practices heliskiing in Canada once a year, a sport that involves skiing virgin mountains prior to the start of the season. To reach these mountains, the athletes are taken to their highest point by helicopter. “You need a guide, since there may be crevasses or avalanches. It's a bit extreme, but lots of fun. I am already training my sons so they can join me.”
Work routine – Changed after the company went public. Before, much of his time was devoted to clients and internal teams. Now, 40% of his time is spent with analysts, investors and media, 40% with clients and the remainder with the teams. “Since we are rookies in the market, we need to make ourselves known.”
Routine at home – “I can balance work with family. I have been married for 20 years and have followed my children closely. I eat breakfast with them and take them to soccer practice on Saturdays.”
How he keeps informed – Reads newspapers, magazines and the internet, making notes on paper then organizing everything on the computer. “I try to stay up-to-date, but my filters are the people around me.”
TV – “I watch it to go to sleep.”
Bedside reading – Reads biographies, comparing experiences others have gone through with his current and future experiences. During college, he was significantly marked by the book “Lektüre für Minuten" by Hermann Hess.
Pet peeves – Pending items. “I deal very well with problems and very poorly with pending items.”
To relax – Sports.
To think – A long shower or a run. “I run with a telephone so I can record ideas that come to me."
Advice to those starting out – Have energy, the desire to learn and grow.
Ten years ago – Was beginning operations for Telefatura, which would eventually lead to Tivit.
Ten years from now – Plans to see Tivit become a multi-national technology services company (the company exports to 14 countries, but only 1% of invoices comes from these services).
Other careers he would have liked to follow – Besides professional athlete ("in soccer or basketball, since I already was a tennis pro"), he could have been a lawyer. “I have a soft spot for law, I love meddling with legal matters."
An inspiration – His father, businessman Fuad Mattar, who, at the age of 85, works every day and plays tennis three times per week. “He helped me to reason and influenced my choices”. In tennis, he cites coach Paulo Cleto, “physical trainer, psychologist, friend”. “He shared a room with me more than my own wife.”
An idol (in tennis) – Swede Björn Borg and Frenchman Yannick Noah.
A tennis match – With old friends from the rankings and younger tennis players. “I injure myself frequently because I overdo the intensity." Follows international tournaments and sometimes attends Roland Garros, in Paris. “It was my favorite Grand Slam to play in.”
The first challenge – Discipline and self-control, in tennis. “Many young, talented youth play well for five games, then fall apart because they can't take the pressure."
The latest challenge – Market interaction by Tivit. “I had two surprises at the start of this: the ability of investors to absorb knowledge of the business itself in great depth and how often they try to predict the future of the company. But we are on the right path and, little by little, we will prove that Tivit is just as good as other good publicly-traded companies."
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