Motivated and enthusiastic, Roger and Rafael are two young people who are setting an example by putting their leadership skills and knowledge into practice
It’s a Thursday morning at Braskem’s headquarters in the west zone of São Paulo City. A lively team comes out of one of the meeting rooms. Near the coffee machine, a small group discusses the launch of a new product. The age range of these professionals varies. Some have gray hair, others still have pimples. But enthusiasm is widespread. And infectious.
Among them are chemical engineers Roger Marchioni and Rafael Christo, both in their 30s. The two young men are experiencing accelerated professional growth. They are leaders of the new generation at Braskem.
“The management structure at Braskem is based on trust and planned delegation,” said Marchioni, 36, the Strategic Marketing and Market Intelligence Manager at the Polymers Unit. He is also responsible for regional sales management and accounts at the Polypropylene Unit. “The company has a profile of dynamism and focus on results that makes me very happy,” adds Rafael, 31, the officer Responsible for Strategy, Marketing and Performance Management at Braskem’s Polymers Unit.
Grooming leaders is a strategic imperative for Braskem, which was created in 2002 through the consolidation of six companies from the petrochemical sector. Education and people management are an ongoing process, from hiring to the post-career phase. As Rafael says: “One week after I arrived here as an intern in 2001, Patrícia Maia, from the P&O (People and Organization) team at the time, called me in to find out what I thought about the company and the program. That was when I decided that this was the company I wanted to work for.”
A graduate of the Federal University at Rio Grande do Sul, Roger joined OPP Petroquímica (one of the companies that would form Braskem) as an intern in 1996. He spent a year on his own in the United States between 1997 and 1998. “In San Diego, California, I took a ‘graduate’ program in dishwashing,” he says proudly. As a student at USP, Rafael walked from school to his internship at Braskem, crossing the busy Marginal Pinheiros avenue.
PDE and MBA
Roger Marchioni has participated in Braskem’s Program for Developing Entrepreneurs (PDE), which is specially designed for business management and leadership. It was held in Bahia, with the participation of the Organization’s founder, Norberto Odebrecht, Emílio Odebrecht, Chairman of the Board, and Marcelo Odebrecht, President and CEO, and Renato Baiardi, a Member of the Board, all from Odebrecht S.A. “It is inspiring see that they all have a sparkle in their eyes after so many years in business,” says Roger.
Rafael Christo, in turn, chose to make the Braskem MBA his path to leadership. He was apprehensive at first, fearing that an in-company master’s would be limited to networking. But his fears were unfounded. Taught by professors from the FGV (Getúlio Vargas Foundation) and the Harvard Business School, among others, the course served as an efficient interface between academic knowledge and the realities of the market. What’s more, it actually was a valuable networking tool. “The company is massive,” he says. Rafael met a vast range of professionals from different areas of Braskem, many of whom are still good friends and working throughout the Odebrecht Organization.
Their coaches or mentors – older, more experienced leaders who advise young professionals – have also played a prominent role in the education of these two young managers. “What we’ve found here is the possibility of having several leaders who give a boost to our self-development,” says Roger, who believes that the leader-team member relationship lasts forever. “I consider them my leaders to this day,” he says of his teachers. Both agree that the hallmark of that relationship is transparency. “If I made a mistake, I wanted them to correct me on the spot,” says Rafael.
Roger Marchioni became an Account Manager in mid-2006 and started leading a team of six professionals in 2008. Relying on his leaders’ teachings was crucial to that process. Early in his career, Rafael Christo left the office routine in the planning sector to work in a factory, at the PVC Unit. He made the move with the backing of the leader of that unit at the time, Roberto Simões (now Responsible for Odebrecht Defesa e Tecnologia). He spent a year on the factory floor. “It was great. At the plant, I learned to be a real engineer and understand the essence of the company,” he says.
Roger and Rafael firmly believe that planned delegation, which imbues professionals with a sense of responsibility and fosters trust, also has undeniable value in the educational process. “When you feel free to contribute, any kind of learning becomes easier,” says Roger. “I kid around that the day there’s a leader breathing down my neck, I’ll be in big trouble. A leader doesn’t need to keep checking up on you for things to get done around here,” adds Rafael.
According to Roger, despite being a large company, Braskem cultivates the spirit of a small firm. An agile environment with standalone units makes planning delegation and fostering individual responsibility easier and more effective. “Both the leader and team member can develop to the max in this environment,” says Roger.
Roger and Rafael respectively lead teams of 16 and 50 professionals. “Being a leader is motivating,” says Roger. The age range on Rafael’s team is 22 to 45. On Roger’s team there are several different accents. “Diversity rules,” he says. “We have people from southern Brazil, Bahia, Rio, São Paulo. There’s even a Colorado,” he quips, alluding to the Internacional soccer club, archrival of his favorite team, Grêmio.
Roger guarantees that one of the main things he has learned from his leaders is to maintain team unity. “The leader conveys the goals and a plan to achieve them, and sets a clear course for his team as a result,” he says. He also stresses the importance of developing trust in each team member. The key to the art of delegation is correctly assessing the “point on the curve” where each team member is located. “You can delegate more complex responsibilities to some and less complex ones to others. You need to have the sensitivity to gauge that.”
An important educational tool at Braskem is the Skill Development System (SDC). Its role is to map each member’s skills and identify opportunities for their development. “The gaps may lie in the individual. They have to learn to invest in themselves,” emphasizes Roger.
Learning to be a leader means learning to overcome challenges. And that can only learned from day to day. Classes, programs and coaching can add color, but as this pair amply demonstrates, the person who actually paints the picture is the young manager. For the Marketing team Roger Marchioni leads, the big challenge is gaining a thorough understanding of the client’s needs and using it to direct the Polymers Unit’s strategy. “That’s the source of power (the client),” says Roger. “We help translate their real needs. Many times, what they ask for is not exactly what they need,” he adds.
The big challenge for Rafael Christo has been to share and implement Braskem’s best practices and culture in the firms that have merged with the company. It is a fine balance: knowing how to keep the best pre-existing practices without diluting Braskem’s culture of meritocracy and transparency. Recently, Rafael took the Brazilian home company’s culture to its US subsidiary, Braskem America, created in 2010 through the acquisition of the polypropylene assets of Sunoco Chemicals. When Rafael traveled to Philadelphia, he was apprehensive. He wasn’t sure what the climate would be like when he arrived. The “office culture” he found there was radically different from what he was used to. Unlike the horizontal and modern environment of the Brazilian office, a top-down structure reigned there. The hallways were empty. But the Brazilian received a warm welcome. The US team was very receptive. And even the clouds at the airport vanished. When he caught a taxi, the Puerto Rican cab driver introduced himself as Jesus. “And I’m Christo, nice to meet you,” said Rafael, playfully.
At Braskem, the motto is “we must groom successors who are better than ourselves.” Though young, Roger and Rafael are already actively engaged in grooming new leaders. Both managers are considered the “previous generation” by 20-something professionals. And both agree that rather than passing on technical knowledge, the leader’s most important role is to foster a sense of ethics in younger members. They look for both personal and technical skills. In this task – which is far from an exact science – Roger is inspired by his upbringing. “In terms of ethical behavior, my parents have been my biggest inspiration,” he says. The results are gratifying. “Today I have people on my team who could be my leaders,” says Rafael. “It makes me extremely happy to see people from my team growing and developing. My team members’ accomplishments are very gratifying,” says Roger.