|The market’s sociologist|
It was 3 o’ clock in the morning on the day when 2008’s annual results would be disclosed, and Itaú Unibanco IR superintendent Geraldo Soares was just leaving his office. He was somewhat annoyed with having to return only a few hours later, but he didn’t feel tired. In good physical shape and with a reputation for hyperactivity, he is one of those passionate people who don’t think twice before losing a night’s sleep to work at what he loves. All the enthusiasm couldn’t ward off the accident, however: when he saw the truck heading toward the front of his car, at a corner of Ricardo Jafet Avenue in São Paulo, it was too late to pull back.
The bone fractures put him flat on his back in bed for two weeks straight, plus two and a half months of medical leave and another four and a half months of physical therapy. The idea of posting a material fact (which the bedridden Soares promptly rejected) was not so outrageous: after all, his legion of friends from all over the market were calling nonstop to know how he was doing — the fruits of a decade of companionship and admiration for his work at the bank and at the Brazilian Institute of Investor Relations (Ibri), which he headed for two years.
Completely recovered – and even back to the gym, which he attends at night – the executive admits that he has resumed his habitual work pace, but is trying a little harder to avoid working into the wee hours of the morning. “I can’t help becoming engrossed with things and people”, says Soares, who in his “free time”, right in the middle of a vacation, took the opportunity to grant this interview and prepare his end-of-term dispatches for the Ibri. He not only saw his whole life pass before his eyes – a question many people asked – but also started smoking more cigarettes after the car crash. “I smoke and I like smoking”, he states. However, the terrible experience didn’t spare him from experiencing a deep sadness, a feeling unknown to him before that moment. “The pain I caused in other people greatly affected me. I can never forget the look on my wife’s face when she saw me.”
His sudden desire to get away – “I disappeared from the market for a while” – surprised even Soares, who has always been a people person. When talking about his first contact with the capital market, he attributes his skill in dealing with business manager and economist colleagues to his academic background. “Perhaps my being a sociologist enabled me to see the big picture and interact with everyone, and also helped me overcome my personal gaps", says Soares, referring to a course he attended by the Capital Market Dissemination Committee (Codimec). Then, thinking a bit more about it, he remembers that in his teen years in the city of São José dos Campos, where his house was frequented by politicians and reporters from the newspaper where his father worked, he was already able to circulate in different environments and fit comfortably into them all. “I taught a photographer from the newspaper how to play chess”, he says, laughing at the memory.
But how did a sociologist, who grew up in a home with 5,000 books and frequent discussions about philosophy and drama, end up at a capital market education course? The explanation may lie in that same family environment, as his father’s interests were also diversified: in addition to being a journalist, he was also an entrepreneur and stock market investor. The field of human sciences was a natural choice — “I liked history and geography at school; I read Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy when I was 14 years old” — but when he arrived at the University of Campinas (Unicamp), he also ended up enrolling in elective courses in other fields, such as political science and economics. “I wanted to make the absolute most of it: I got very little sleep, took vacation courses and graduated after three years and a half”, he says. “When I was studying Marxist theory at the economics faculty, I realized why sociology was unable to explain all of humanity’s movements. Through knowledge of sociology and economics, I was trying to achieve a better understanding of the world.”
Come graduation time, a hard decision arose: which career path to take. His experiences as a mayor’s office intern and CNPQ fellowship student had shown that areas like research and government work were "too quiet". The capital market, on the other hand, contained the social and economic movements that fascinated him so much, plus the necessary dynamism to appease his restless personality. To boot, the Codimec posed a challenge: he had to pass the test, then overcome his educational “gaps” in subjects like accounting and financial mathematics. “It was the best course I ever took in my life”, he says.
Geraldo Soares was the first sociologist to attend the Codimec course and join the trainee program at Itaú, where his career quickly took off after obtaining a master’s degree in accounting and financial controllership from the University of São Paulo (USP). After four years and a half at the bank, he had risen to costs supervisor and was preparing presentations for his first roadshows overseas due to his capital market knowledge.
Soares speaks nostalgically of those first contacts with investors in 1995 and of the pioneering IR website he set up after starting to head of the newly created department in 1999. “I always tried to do unprecedented things, see what no one else saw. Having the opportunity to be creative is fundamental.” He recognizes the difficulties of this choice, however: “First, you have to study a lot. There’s no insight without deep knowledge. Then, there’s the risk. I think I take quite a few chances." The market has shown approval for the superintendent’s boldness. But he should probably avoid dangerous intersections in the middle of the night.