|An eye for what's right - Maria Cecília Rossi|
On the last day of March, Maria Cecília Rossi's telephone wouldn’t stop ringing. It was her friends congratulating her on her new triumph: she was among the nine new board members elected to the Brazilian Institute of Corporate Governance (IBGC), with 274 votes, third only to Alberto Whitaker and Gilberto Mifano. What could have been just another step on a road interwoven with the capital market's own history ended up taking on special significance for Ms. Rossi - perhaps because of her imminent 50th birthday, which she will celebrate next June 24. "Today I realize how inevitable it was for me to blaze a trail through the area of regulation and self-regulation", she says, taking a moment for self-reflection. "Because I came from a family of educators, I always had supervision imbued into my way of thinking, and always had an eye for doing the right thing."
Yes, Ms. Rossi was a prim and proper young lady. She never needed to make an effort to be politically correct, even back when the expression didn't yet exist. At 21, she had already graduated in Business Administration from the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV), in São Paulo, after having studied at Rio Branco High School, where she opted for a biology major only because it was "the most demanding course".
No, Ms. Rossi did not know where she would end up. At the same time she was a very hard-working student - the youngest in the FGV Master's program - and she also strove to understand the world and her own personal equilibrium. She liked macroeconomics because it fulfilled her "need for an understanding of the real world", and at the same time she engaged herself in classes of bodily awareness with choreographer Rainer Vianna. “It took me six months just to learn to walk again”, she recalls jokingly.
With such diverse interests, it’s no wonder that during her first paid vacation, she decided to put on a backpack and travel around the United States for 30 days. It’s also no wonder that she concluded the trip with a visit to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. “I was very impressed”, she says. On her return, she was offered a place as an analyst in commodities brokering in the corporation she was already working for. Incremento Commodities, belonging to the Bonfiglioli group, had the largest derivatives desk at that time. For her master's degree, she finally decided on a subject for her thesis: the futures markets, "a very little-talked about subject".
One can say that Ms. Rossi was in the right place, at the right time when the São Paulo Commodities and Futures Exchange - BM&F project appeared. She managed to negotiate a better salary ("I was living on my own", she says by way of justification) and at 25, she was already drawing up futures contracts for a market in its infancy. "As a one kilo gold contract did not generate liquidity, we set the bar at 250 grams and it was a success", she says. "My counterparts, who occupied the same position in the United States, were in their forties."
Her career took off to such an extent that Ms. Rossi could have let go of her "alternative" bent. However, she continued to take care of her physical health "more intelligently" and still found time to read novels, go to film festivals and plan her next travels. Meanwhile, invitations were flowing in: after her stint at the BM&F, she had the opportunity to work in the management of the Bovespa, in which her task to create new products was thwarted by then-President Collor and his ill-fated Cruzado economic plan. “The worst thing was the Nahas case [a corruption scandal in the financial sector]”, says Ms. Rossi, who then returned to the BM&F to carry out the launch of DI (interest rate) futures contracts. From there, she went on to take over the superintendence for market development at the Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission (CVM). “When Ary Oswaldo (Mattos Filho) told me to create new things, a light blinked on in my head", she says.
At the regulator, she was again at the center of transformations, including the opening of the market to foreign investors through Annex IV and the first ADRs. In the following management cycle, Ms. Rossi found herself on the board of the CVM, "a very privileged position", she says. "It was there that I realized that I liked to be able to see all the various aspects of the market at the same time, which later led me to set up my own consultancy firm, Interlink."
Ms. Rossi was the third female director at the CVM. She says that she never felt discriminated against, but admits that she did use lady's suits and a "Chanel" style haircut as weapons to get by in that male environment. "It was how women were able to conquer their space in that time; there was no feminine way of getting in there", she says. At the IBGC, where she has just been elected, she will be the only female board member, a déjà vu of when she joined the board of directors at the Bovespa, in 2005. "Sometimes somebody would swear, then they'd all look at me and apologize. I thought it was funny, because they used to do that 20 years ago, when I was an employee at the stock exchange", says Ms. Rossi, who nowadays presides over the BM&FBovespa Market Supervision (BSM) department, also made up of men.
She didn't use to think too much about being a woman until she realized that she almost missed out on one of the most striking experiences of her life: maternity. Entirely work-focused, she had opted for a childless marriage, when a supposed hormonal problem led her to get an ultrasound. She was worried it was some kind of health problem ("I thought I had a tumor"), so she could hardly believe what she saw on the monitor. “It had hands, feet, toes and was three months old. It was a moment of joy at a time when I was pondering life and death."
Maternity - at 43 - proved that the much sought-after equilibrium was possible, even with a larger family. "My daughter only increased it", she usually repeats to other women, unable to avoid an impassioned preaching. "I have a thousand difficulties to conciliate, but I'm trying to teach her that it’s possible to work, have a family and friends and still help society. Many women are afraid and try to compensate this with traveling and having a lot of handbags in the wardrobe. In the end, that's not going to work."