Keep equity at the heart of big business


When Brazil’s most famous businesswoman stumbled and fell in front of the cameras while carrying the Olympic torch through her hometown ahead of the 2016 Rio Games, shoppers across the country had reason to rejoice.

“Dona Luiza has fallen but she’s fine,” she tweeted after her Luiza Magazine cover chain, after announcing new discounts. “Now prices have fallen too!”

Meanwhile Luiza Trajano treated the contrast as she had with many other obstacles in her life: she recovered and continued as if nothing had happened.

This grit and determination helped Trajano, an only child of a shoemaker city in the interior of the state of São Paulo, to join the part-time sales assistant in the family store to become president. and then president of a retail power valued at more than $ 23 bn with 1,310 stores and 47,000 employees.

Along the way, she has become a powerful advocate for women’s rights and racial equality, as well as one of the richest women in Latin America.

“I’m very grateful to have been raised by strong women,” she says. “Because I was born into a bunch of entrepreneurial women, I had a mission to help other women learn to win as well.”

Trajan, 69, attributes his success in business to his ability to put himself in the shoes of others and help solve his problems. “My mom made me think of solutions,” she says. “When I came home from school saying that the teacher had done something to me, he replied,‘ What are you going to do for the teacher to accept you? “

At the age of 17, he began working in the family store in the town of Franca, a thriving industrial city nearly 300km north of St. Paul, during the school holidays to earn money for Christmas gifts.

“I discovered I had a talent for dealing with people,” she says. “It’s what it’s about selling… I’ve learned that in order to sell, I have to enter the world of others, to understand how they lived, how much they earned.”

Beginning in the 1970s, Luiza Magazine began a steady expansion and Trajano’s career grew with her. In 1991, when he took his first job, the company was still a family-owned chain named after his aunt with a few dozen shops in the interior of the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais. It is moving quickly to professionalize management and bring in new ideas.

Customers line up to enter Luiza Magazine in St. Paul © Bruno Rocha / Fotoarena LTDA / Alamy

The 1990s were tough for Brazilian retailers. The recession and high inflation have eaten up profits and many businesses have closed. Trajan was contacted by the mayors of the small towns who had lost their only department store, asking them to open a branch of Magalu, as their chain is known. How can I do that profitably?

The solution she touched on was the “e-shop” – a pre-internet prototype for online sales. Luiza magazine has opened small stores in less profitable cities with only a few staff and no stock on display. Customers had tips in the store and were shown the range of white goods of electronics, consumers, gifts and furniture in VHS videos. Orders were sent in boxes. Customers loved it.

The company has also charted a path in its employment practices, offering training programs, comprehensive staff benefits and anti-discrimination rules.

“We are standing still [voted] among the top five companies to work in Brazil for 23 years, ”says Trajano. Among the benefits that Luiza magazine offers is an additional monthly payment for staff with children, and health plans, life insurance, loans and a line of help for women suffering from domestic violence.

Technology was also a priority. Trajano commissioned his school-educated son, Federico, to set up in-house e-sales in 2001, when Brazilian rivals launched standalone online units. Luiza magazine continued to invest in bricks and mortar, launching in the Brazilian commercial capital São Paulo in 2008 with 50 new stores.

His commitment to an omnichannel model has served the company well. Logistics is expensive in Brazil and Luiza’s concept of selling online and using physical warehouses to deliver has allowed her to transfer denied profits to competitors only online.

“We were under a lot of pressure, even more so after floating on the stock market[in 2011]. . . to separate the dotcom operation from the physical stores, “he says.” I thank my family, who at the time owned 84 percent of the shares, never asked why the shares were so low. ” two original holding families still own 58 percent of the shares and Trajano’s 17 percent stake is now worth more than $ 4 billion, according to Forbes.

Reflecting his strong interest in social issues, Trajan created it Women of Brazil, a national women’s network in 2013 to promote female empowerment. Three years later, he made a comeback from Luiza Magazine’s daily operation to chair the council and spend more time on social projects.

Trajan is not excused for his defense of the quotas to increase the proportion of women on business advice from its current level of 7 percent in Brazil. “Until two or three years ago, women weren’t even thinking about tables, they had no chance,” she says. “We can only talk about meritocracy when there are opportunities for everyone.”

Three questions for Luiza Trajano

Who is your leadership hero?

My aunt was a very strong leader, very concerned with social issues. He gave a cancer hospital to the city. But I don’t have a single idol. I have always been inspired by various people.

If you’re not a leader / CEO, what will you be?

He would have been a psychologist.

What was the first leadership lesson you learned?

I learned empathy. Empathy changes places with another person, being in their own world.

The same thought led her to a growing racial diversity in Magalu. She believes the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States last year had a profound impact on Brazil, which was among the last nations in the Western world to abolish slavery. “Those eight minutes of suffocation profoundly affected business people and the authorities,” he says.

Luiza magazine announced last year that it would reserve all positions in its training scheme for highly sought-after black candidates in an effort to develop future senior black leaders. Despite accusations on social networks of reverse racism, the society went ahead and selected 20 black apprentices from nearly 20,000 candidates: other societies followed.

“Brazil has had 400 years of slavery,” Trajano explains. “Slavery left not only a financial legacy but also an emotional one. People did not feel that the country belonged to them. . . It was a very serious legacy of slavery and the very bad way in which abolition happened. . . people were thrown into the streets without food, without work, without home, without school and without money. “

Most recently, Trajano launched an initiative called United for Vaccine to raise money to help accelerate inoculation in a country with the second-highest number of vaccines. coronavirus dead.

Her fame and popularity have led some in Brazil to suggest that she should run for president next year, an idea Trajan completely rules out.

“I am a politician as I have a group of almost 100,000 women who want to be the largest non-partisan organization in Brazil,” she says. “100,000 people who speak the same language despite thinking differently.” I believe in the transformation of the country through an organized and determined civil society. ”

michael.stott@ft.com



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