The Steelman from Ceará

Entrepreneurship entrevista Vilmar Ferreira Monday November 7th, 2016

The story of the boy who sold meat on the street in the inland of Ceará, and became a steel giant without giving up the talent to calculate costs and benefits, at work and in life.

Vilmar Ferreira, 65, runs a company with estimated revenues for this year of R$ 1.9 billion and goal of reaching R$ 2.4 billion in 2017. It has about 4 thousand employees and operates throughout the country. It should close 2016 earning 705 thousand tons of steel (5% imported). It is a leader in the North and Northeast. In total, the Aço Cearense Group has five units: Aço Cearense Comercial (CE), Aço Cearense Industrial (CE), Sinobras Siderúrgica (PA), Sinobras Florestal (TO) and Instituto Aço Cearense (CE/PA/TO). It was a stroke of luck. The scythe that made his leg bleed at age 15 ended up anticipating what would surely occur later. Boy Vilmar, from Marco (CE), closed his deal there on the farm to never return. His father’s decision, a sacred voice for him too, at the moment he left the liquor sale and began migrating to steel decades later. In the early days, he left farming to become a trader. He killed and sold a pig alone, to pieces. Already applied the talent to do accounts and practiced a basic reasoning for everything that does in life until today, ahead of Steel Cearense, leader in the North and Northeast in steel and distribution: cost and benefit. In this interview, recorded in his office, at the headquarters of the company, for about 1h30min, he talks about biography, conjuncture and dreams. Dreams have changed and he has a daughter as his successor.

O POVO – You are known as a low profile entrepreneur. He does not like to appear and is very discreet in relationships. What led you to accept this interview?

VILMAR FERREIRA- Look, first we have to have good relationships with people, especially with the press, I try to contribute a lot to society. The press clarifies. I think the work of the press is pretty and I think it’s nice to collaborate.

OP – By the size your business has acquired, to what extent does your business sense from the start still influence decisions?

VILMAR – I say that the professional is born professional. And many professionals do not get along in one segment alone. We have to believe, we have been determined. Especially when we come from the hinterland, without study, when it begins to make success in the business area. This excites me, especially with my spirit. I am now learning the “We”. Because a lot of people defend only the “I”. A lot of people put a politician to defend their sector, their class. I find them extremely disloyal to themselves. I think the person to be loyal has to look at society, to look at another and even because when you have competence, capacity or is blessed to live better, why not think about others? You already made sure about yourself then let’s think about the most fragile people. This philosophy that gives me energy to be an entrepreneur, to undertake, to generate income, to generate tax for the government as well. We are the biggest tax collectors in Ceará. Federal. State not so much because it has benefits.

OP – How have you faced more this economic crisis more?

VILMAR: This has hurt me, hurt so much. A political crisis by greed for power. What is down to want to knock down who is up and who pays is society. Society does not understand much, it does not follow much what an economy is, what are the economic indexes. Today it is my struggle for you young people to be interested in seeing the reality of the facts, not to be deceived by someone who divulges their contradictory interests and to generate a crisis as serious as it has been generated in the last three years.

OP – Are you one of the businessmen who believed in that PT way of governing at the beginning when everything was okay?

VILMAR – Not only did, I still believe, not in a PT economics model, but in any economic model and any party that has a model that generates jobs and income, and is good for everyone. One of the things that I wanted society to understand, and that entrepreneurs understand, is that we depend heavily on the worker. The worker consumes 100% of what he earns. He does not spare. We business people, people who earn well, do not spend 5%, 3%, 10%, 15%, 20%. We have to have this awareness of working for the one who consumes more. Why has our economy grown in recent years? Why do I advocate this economic model? First: real salary increase, which I advocate for over 30 years. I defend a strong currency. Country with strong currency is country with credibility. And whenever the currency was strong we grew, inflation was weakened. What weakens inflation is a strong currency. You saw the example from March to here. From March to here the currency began to strengthen, inflation began to decline. In September we had near zero inflation, at 0.8%. I do not agree with the government wanting to weaken the currency to be able to export. This also weakens the Government, because we generate very large unemployment, inflation, as happened two years ago, with the currency devalued. Everything is dollarized, all you import is in dollars. You see that a bread that cost X real when the coin was valued doubled from three years ago. Then and now it could be falling but the businessman holds a little, holds the highest price, because the businessman wants to make money and seize the opportunities. I passed Itapipoca the other day. Before in those squares was a lot of donkey and bicycle, today you see motorcycles and cars. I saw a survey in which cities with less than 6 thousand inhabitants had a 150% increase in vehicle sales, while in cities like São Paulo, with more than 10 million inhabitants, grew by only 6%. Poor has started to buy refrigerator, stove, car, motorcycle. I do not defend corruption, I do not defend the unethical thing, but I do not go in the wave of speculation to overturn an economic model that is well.

OP – Do not you agree with the scandals that involve the government that has gone away, but fear a setback?

VILMAR – It’s a reality. The government was deposed with a fiscal pedal, a fiscal deficit of R$ 40 billion. This year a deficit of R$ 172 billion was approved, four times more and Congress approved. It was a failure of the previous government not to have approved the R$ 40 billion, which she (Dilma Rousseff) had not taken the country to the street and harmed the whole society, paying such a high price. What happens? This year has already been R$ 172 billion. It seems to me that R$ 172 billion will not be enough, the press is saying that it will not be enough, that is more than 400%. You see that in 2013 the government spent R$ 163 billion on interest, this year will spend more than R$ 600 billion, plus the fiscal deficit that will jump to almost R$ 150 billion, which in 2013 was R$ 40 and a few billion. That is, in 2013 the Social Security deficit was 0.96%, against 3.8% in 2002. See how much the Social Security deficit fell as the economy grew. I have so much data that I want to divulge next year. I’m doing a job with economic data. In 2013 we reached the peak of Brazil’s economic boom, the lowest employment rate since they began to measure. The lowest Selic since the rate was created. It was all very well, then our president simply went crazy to be influenced by negative speculations by the government, she accepted and society is paying, the productive sector is paying.

OP – Do not you think bitter remedies, unfriendly, are needed right now?

VILMAR – There is no doubt that the adjustments are necessary, but we could not pay so dearly for the adjustments of the way we paid, because it was not just the adjustments. It was adjustment and mismatch. Because they made adjustment on one side and misalignment on the other. The adjustment also began in the Dilma government, with Levy (former Finance Minister Joaquim Levy). Except that Levy made some adjustments on the one hand, positive, and the negative was absurd, the negative cascade effect that generated the mismatch as well. The Selic too high, too devalued currency. This was where we lost credibility, the productive sector stopped producing to be able to apply money. Who had money and who did not was breaking down and generated these millions of unemployed. In 2014 when I saw the madness, these speculations, many exaggerated lies, that I saw that the Brazilian was in crisis, I made two publications in Valor Econômico, I spent enough money to do the publications.

OP – Spent money how?

VILMAR – Paying. I paid the value. Some R$ 300,000 in one publication, R$ 200,000 in another.

OP – Announcement?

VILMAR Yes, announcement. To show what was going to happen in Brazil with that economic model that the market was speculating. That model that is speculating I said: raise interest, that is, devalue currency to fight inflation, to export, generate employment, that is an aberration, absurd that. On the contrary, it generated unemployment, because interest rose to fight an inflation of 5.7%, which jumped to 11%, 12%. That to me was clear, that was to devalue currency is inflation, it is blood in the vein. Look at the contradiction: you devalue currency to fight inflation and raise interest rates to create a recessionary process to combat inflation. What happened? One neutralized the other? On the contrary, it was negative cascade effect, inflation rose even more, generating all those negative cascade effects we are experiencing today. So it was crazy then I was desperate. I was disappointed with my colleagues in the manufacturing sector who did not see this. The financial sector was applauding because it was all they wanted to make money. This has generated this whole situation, this whole stress we are paying on the market for it.

OP – There is a desire among businessmen that the government should interfere less in the economy, leaving the Central Bank more autonomous. You defend stronger currency, lower interest rates … do you believe that the Government should interfere?

VILMAR – Look, I must interfere on my directors of my company. If my director is doing something wrong, or something is not healthy to the company, I interfere. What is the President? The president is to interfere in what is bringing bad to society. If he has no competence, the people have to understand and charge him. So if you see a minister, a president of the Central Bank doing something that will generate a stress for the market, that is the productive sector… Because who generates wealth is the productive sector. The financial sector is of paramount importance, to supply, to finance. But you have to finance with competitive interest. Nor do I speak of interest from Europe that is negative, US interest, which is cheap, but here we are with real interest of 14% Selic, that is interest of 14% real, and that 14% real does not exist nor 1% In Europe, nor 1% in the USA. In Brazil from June to here with real interest of 8%, there is no economy in the world that supports this, that grows that way. So there the government has to interfere, there really if it does not interfere it is not defending the society. You are not defending the worker. This is absurd, honestly, society has to understand this, have to keep up.

OP – When you saw the crisis before, did you have time to prepare the company to face it?

VILMAR: I did not believe that the president would be so, I would say, naive, I do not know, to accept what she accepted. Because I believed she wanted to win the election and she would come back, so much so that I even voted for her because I voted for her first term. I never voted for Lula, but this time I voted for her because I believed. I even talked to her last year when she was here. But of course she was already deteriorated, psychologically devastated, had no more emotional balance for anything, so her mistake was the fragility of her that was so strong, but it was too fragile. But I knew it was going to happen, because of this I did not believe that this crisis would get where it arrived. I thought that the productive sector was not going to allow, that is, it was going to give a shout, but it seems to me that the productive sector is still deluded with the new government yet, but let’s see now.

OP: Are you calm?

VILMAR – Since April, when inflation started to fall, I had contraction of labor. Asking and praying. Not only for me and for my company, but for the businessmen who are breaking Brazil, who are languishing Brazil. When I remember that there are millions and millions of family fathers paying the price, desperate mothers, children leaving class because the father can not buy a book, it hurts me a lot because I am an extremely human, as well as religious person. It makes me nervous. Uneasy.

OP – Do you believe that impeachment was good or bad for the Country?

VILMAR: There’s a good thing. If society understood, knowing the truth, it was good. Good for what? To reduce corruption. I believe that from now on corruption will really have limits. There is corruption all over the world, but in Brazil they have abused a lot in recent years. Corruption was not just in a party. The society that has knowledge of the facts, knowing what was the reason for the crisis. If you see the indexes of 2013 and see 2014 here, languishing, languishing. It was an excellent job that the press did, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Federal Police. In fact, we can not help but understand that President Dilma has also collaborated with this too. Because at no time did she intervene to stop the Lava-Jet, and she saw her colleagues going to jail, her party people being denounced.

OP – Your speech on the PT government, by President Dilma, is milder than what we usually hear among businessmen in Ceará. You even voted for her in re-election. Do you feel alone among your fellow entrepreneurs?

VILMAR – Not only my colleagues, even my children, even my directors here, even from home, I feel alone (laughs). Now they’re listening, they can hear me. But the strength of the media is very strong, that is why it is important because it is too strong and people believe more in the media, only that I work with facts, I analyze the facts, I do not look, I do not get involved with speculation.

OP – Speaking of high prices, we know that Aço Cearense is a company very sensitive to exchange variation. Was this the worst moment in its history?

VILMAR – Look, this question is timely because we actually suffered a blow in 2014 and 2015 because of the currency devaluation because our debt is very in dollar, but today our debt is more in Real. We also have a steel, more than 50% of our steel, while the currency is more devalued steel rises the more the price. So I am not a suspect in defending the most valued currency. Especially from two years to now that my debt has changed to 80% in Real. Another: we have this steel industry that the steel sector is looking for a devalued currency. Only that is a misunderstanding. First the government does not collect, you do not export. Brazil is not competitive to export steel, so, and even exporting, to the government is not interesting because the government does not collect export taxes. It collects is with internal consumption and is internal consumption that generates employment, wealth. It is in him that everyone wins, worker and government as well. And government is society, you know that.

OP – Was it the worst moment in your history?

VILMAR No, it was not. I went through a lot of crises, we’ve had a lot of crises and everybody has overcome.

OP – Many companies have resorted to Judicial Recovery (RJ), but you have not reached so much. Although you talked to the market, talked, used your credibility. How you acted when you faced this terrible crisis. Can we call it informal RJ?

VILMAR – No, I did not do informal RJ. Did not. First RJ you do not pay interest for so many years, we are paying interest normally. I will tell you what my spirit is, what I have learned and what I seem to have been born with, I do not know: consistency and justice. What is mine is mine, what belongs to others is to others. So the government is the government, my creditor is my creditor. The biggest asset we have is not the physical, it is not selling almost a million tons as we sold, as it was in 2014 and 2015 and neither, that is, and the volume of billing, that you know that our company is one of the largest of Ceará. Our greatest asset is not the physical one, it’s the credibility. My credibility, ours, my team, a team that wears the shirt, that gives the blood by this company. Prepared, a team of 35 years that this team gives this synergy, this energy and generates to us a force in a moment of that you do not become fragile. It draws blood from the veins, it draws stone milk as I say and we go out, but credibility is very important. It was the credibility of more than 50 years as an entrepreneur since he bought eggs in the interior, killing goat at 5 o’clock in the morning at the age of 15. I used to go out selling on a donkey. We created this structure and this structure today has the most important credibility, together with the client and our creditors. Our creditor believes in us.

OP – Aço Cearense is a great company and in the early days was at least greatly attacked by large steel groups. Do you consider yourself a player of this club of steelmakers today?

VILMAR: No, it’s very normal today. There was in the past. We spent 30 years suffering. Not 30 years, the first 6 years was only, or only I would say, very pleasant the first few years. More kiss. Then many more slaps, when we come to compete with the suppliers themselves. We started to bother, it grew a lot in the first six years and in that growth it bothered the big ones. At that time I had a lot of state-owned companies in Brazil, so they helped me, the private steel companies started to being bothered and squeezed me, they threw millions out the window. It was many millions threw out the window, but I had the state. They ceased to be state-owned, were privatized then the situation was complicating. What was our attitude that helped us grow even more? It was importing. The import, exit the domestic market. Since there were many barriers in Brazil to import and we broke all barriers, that was our success.

OP – This was the big hassle.

VILMAR – It was millions, I’d say it was billions thrown out the window. I will not say many billions, but were a few billion, corrected today’s price yes.

OP – Play out the window because they did dumping to fight?

VILMAR – They lowered prices, they did not attend to me here in the domestic market, they competed with me to suffocate. But it gave me energy. Now also a lot of faith in God. I have nothing that I do not through prayers and believing in my prayers. My prayers are at night, at dawn, in the morning, on the way to work, I arrive here is my sanctuary here, the one next to it is social, trophies, I do not know what, orders, but…

OP: Do you pray here?

VILMAR – A little prayer here every day when I arrive, there’s some holy water here. All this here I won, I really care about it here. There is a prayer here, Prayer of the Divine Jesus. This prayer more than 20 years ago I wrote down here. Every life that ends the candle I change. I have a prayer that I learned in a dream about 10 years ago. Coincidentally, a person took my book, this prayer, I learned in a dream.

OP: Did you dream about this text?

VILMAR: No, I was in a dream, afraid to cross a person from the inland. Something told me this: My Jesus, I trust in you, I am saved by the grace of God, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Then I put it in the book, six years ago my wife made a book with my story and I put that prayer in the book. A bank manager on my birthday last year came with a gift to give me, I thought it was a book, then when I saw it was that prayer in that picture. I found something, a message.

OP – She did not know that you had dreamed?

VILMAR – In the book said. But if she found in the book, why did not she give me a book, something else? She gave me this painting, gave me the painting…

OP – Are you still in that bank until today?

VILMAR – No, I’m going in all the banks (laughs). But the important thing is that I keep praying this prayer several times a day. That’s what’s important.

OP – You are the symbol of the cearense worker, who did not grow at the expense of a public contract, etc. You grew up on your own. I wanted you to tell this story.

VILMAR – I was a child of very poor parents in Marco (Northern area of Ceará) with 13 children…

OP – What did they live with?

VILMAR – Of agriculture. From farming and up to eight children my father gave his children reasonably enough support, the dry season of 58 (1958) came, I was eight years old, I am 50 (1950), then the drought took two-thirds of his savings, little cattle that he had, sheep, this business of creations. When I was 11 years old, I did not agree with my father about planting manioc. I at 11 already knew how to evaluate. Manioc only harvested at two years, and the cost was very high. When I did this calculation more or less, which manioc cost more to harvest than when I was going to sell the flour, it did not make up for it. I’ve always been very good at math. My grades were the best. I’ve always been the best math student.

OP – Have you studied until what year?

VILMAR – Up to seventh grade, which is the second gymnasium at the time. I even joke because my math teacher one day put a problem for us to solve and nobody got it right. Then when he said that he said the problem, I convinced myself that I was right because he was the teacher, but then I called a colleague of mine who was even his brother and I said, “My problem is right, Professor Airton is not right “. Then he became convinced. Neither the teacher hit the problem and I got it right, and that was to sacrament what I’m convinced. I was doing a lot of counts just thinking, so I think my reasoning is very good, to say I’m too bad to talk. My reasoning is very fast, but to express myself I have a lot of difficulty.

OP – When did you leave the farm?

VILMAR – At the age of 15 I was in the field, including my father, with a scythe scything, when the sickle slipped from my hand, because it had the morning dew at 9:30. The smooth cable slipped and cut my leg. It gushed a lot of blood, my father made a tourniquet and put me on the arm. All right, my brother, that’s why I’m religious and my father is very religious too. He said: “Our Lady bless you and never send you back to the countryside.” It all happened because my dad was tight at the time. He always sold a little horse or kitty to pay the bills. I had a kitty that my godfather gave me when I was a kid, gave me a heifer and became a kitty and someone wanted to buy that cow. He sold this cow and gave me the value of the kitty about a quarter of the cow, maybe R$ 1,000 today. With that money I started to buy chicken eggs, a goat, a pig. When I was 15, I would kill a pig alone, cut the pieces, 1 kg, 2 kg, I would put a donkey and go out selling.

OP – With those boxes on the side?

VILMAR – Yes, hamper. Or caçuá, as they called it. I used to go out selling within a 8km radius. He already knew who bought, who liked the liver, the head of the pig, who liked the snout and went out selling. And buying groceries, chicken eggs, what I could buy. And it sold in the town. I lived two kilometers from the small town. And that’s when I started to create some little pigs, to make an economy. At the age of 18 I sold my little pigs, paid my father’s bills, and came to Fortaleza to find a job.

OP – Did you have family here?

VILMAR: I had cousins. Then my mother’s cousin gave me a job. And that cousin of my mother had a grocery store. He had no job to give me, but he coincidentally had three employees and one had asked to go on vacation that same day. Then he said, “If you want to take his vacation … And how much do you want to earn? Do I pay you anything? “Me:” No, I do not want to earn anything, I just want to work. ” So I started working. With two or three days he started calling me Pepper, because when a customer arrived I would run to meet him. That’s when the other colleague came back, all right. He came back but did not dismiss me. On the contrary, I became his manager there, but he paid me 10 cruzeiros.

OP – Did you live there at the grocery store?

VILMAR – I lived there, spent a year and six months living there. Where is the East West today, near the old IML, Braga Torres street, I can not remember the number. And he lived in Senador Alencar street, my boss. So I was carrying a bundle of clothes, 18, 19 years old. I would take pack of dirty clothes over my head from Senator Alencar street to take to his laundry. The person was making a fair and I was going to deliver the boxes with my colleagues in the head. Where today is the Marina (Park Hotel), there was prostitution point, we would deliver there. I earned only a third of a minimum wage. The salary cost 123.80, but he only paid a third of what I was in the work permit and I accepted. At six months I became his manager, he did not raise the salary, I never asked, I never diminished my work potential, my responsibility. When I started sleeping there the bags were 1 meter and half of heigh. When I left he had already made the renovation, our hammock would stay with the ceiling, wake up 5, 6 a.m o’clock in the morning and only close 8 p.m o’clock, that is working 10, 15 hours a day. So I went to the inland a year and six months later. I asked permission to sell a kitty I had left there. My older brother had greater savings than I did because I always helped my father and my brother did not help so much. What happened, we got together and set up a grocery store on the hill. There were a lot of prostitution and we lived together, but I started bringing my family here. My brother split society with me, he did not want to work with me any more. Then I was just bringing my family here.

OP – Why did not it work?

VILMAR – One day he was upset with me, because I went to the inland to his unwillingness, he was older brother. When I arrived the society was apart, so I started bringing the family. Whoever had the money to start a business put his own. Some brothers-in-law and a few younger brothers stayed with me and then came a crisis that was exactly when the Leste-Oeste was made and took my clientele. When I saw it, it had gone bankrupt. I left my father taking care of the grocery store and I put a deposit of drinks to two blocks here of the Aço (in front of the Market São Sebastião, in Bezerra de Menezes avenue). I have been in this market since 1975. Today we are 41 years in here, in this Market, and in the steel business 37, 38 years.

OP – And how did the drink turn to steel?

VILMAR – Beautiful, it was cool that drink pass. Because drink was to save the situation, because when I saw that the thing was not giving, I knew that there was the drink people who made a buck, so since my money is too small, I can not get a big deal, I will go to sell drink. So I threw this drink business, but at four months it was fine. I just had an accident that broke my basin, fractured arm, clavicle and spent almost three months in the hospital, so when I got back the doctor said, “You’re going home and you still have to rest for a month.” But when I got to the liquor store my sister was taking care of it, a 16-year-old girl, and two employees had already plucked the warehouse, there was nothing. A title in the notary’s office that was about R$ 3,000 today, so I had to make loan at the bank. A brother of mine endorsed this loan, but then, when I saw this situation I did not spend a month, I spent only one day without work. I picked up my Kombi, which was looking like a passion fruit, and I went round the street buying drinks, selling beer, then done. It was a success, but not so great. In 1979, after four years, we had assets of R$ 50,000, that’s when I changed the steel business. It was the second best part of my life. First he had said Our Lady bless, I never sent you back to the countryside when I was 15 years old. On that day I went to visit my father, was already married in 1979, had a child already and he said: “my son, I am not satisfied that you sell drink, because drink is bad for man.” That was beautiful. Then I received it as an order, one week I was renting a neighbor point a block from where I was and opened a warehouse building material. In a week I analyzed everything and I saw that was a good deal. But then a colleague of mine, a competitor, said, “Vilmar, why do not you throw steel? This man put two years ago and is rich”. I’m not the one to pick up rope, to influence myself with others, but it got me that way, it seemed like a blessing, it fit, so I started selling steel.

OP – And how did you manage to migrate?

VILMAR – It’s a beautiful story too. The personnel of Gerdau (Brazilian multinational of the sector, with headquarters in Porto Alegre-RS) could no longer open customer. I looked for the rep and he said “no, we’re not allowed to open new clients”. So I went to Recife, bought everything I had in a henchman, sold the deposit, about US$ 50,000, had already rented the point, with the name Ferro OK. Why this name? Because at the time there was Pneus OK and at the time it was doing a lot of television advertising, I wanted to hitchhike on Pneus OK.

OP – That then burned down.

VILMAR – That’s right. After a while it burned down, but the Ferro OK stayed. Steel does not catch fire, so I was happier (laughs). But I thought the name still weak, so I moved to Aço Cearense there I had this idea, because in Brazil everything was Ferro, Ferro Norte I do not know what, so I had the idea that steel is stronger than iron, I bought Aço Cearense, it was a success until today.

OP – You really, in essence, are a merchant. This your commercial skill, you consider your highest professional attribute?

VILMAR – I think it is, value for money. Do calculation. This is important. You first have determination of what you do, everything you do. The entrepreneur is like any type of professional, he has to like it, to have determination in what he does, always try to do better and conquer the space of it. Then the football player, is thus, the plastic artist, doctor, lawyer who becomes famous. I wanted to be famous not only for my family, but to be useful to society and that was my forte. My reasoning is very sharp and in math I also reason very fast, so I went to do the cost-effective. One day when I started the industry, my first one, a friend of mine said: “you are very good at commerce, you stand out, everyone compliments you, industry has nothing to do with commerce”. And I: “No, for me it’s just adding one more service, because it’s just adding. I saw the cost, it is good, so why am I not going to do?”. Just add the service to the raw material, produce and see what the profit. That’s what I got on very well.

OP – How do you recognize the “Peppers” of your company? Talented people how do you identify them?

VILMAR – In everyday life we identify our children, we know who our children are, our friends, who knows who, who is who, then who is here can consider who the peppers are, because it would not be here. Of course we sometimes when the company grows, as it reached 4,800 employees like last year, it is difficult to meet everyone, but there is always the staff knows. The staff seems very much to you. You learn a lot from the team, I learn a lot from my employees, from the workmen, from the humble people, because that’s the most important thing. What I say: one is competent only recognizing limitations. I have limitations here and there’s a workman here who slips me. Our vice president (Ian Correa) is a beast. He collaborated a lot with our company, so he brought a lot of energy to do to make the company’s governance. When I set up Sinobras (steelworks in Marabá – PA) I rode and I was desperate to be distant. I could not leave Aço Cearense to take care of Sinobras, so that was when he was hired. He helped a lot in the professionalization of the company. Gradually you recognize the weakest and take away. Today, thank God, I would tell you that there is only money missing but it is a very professional company.

OP – Popular wisdom says you should not hire someone you can not fire. How do you handle the family component within your company?

VILMAR – First, when I had seven brothers in the company it was really difficult. My brothers wanted to send more than I and being my employees. But one day I punched the table and said, “From now on I am the owner of this company”. Because I was really suffering a lot. We started setting up business for them and professionalizing the company. Today we only have our director here a sister (Maria Ferreira, known by all as Maju) because she has conquered space. And a daughter. It was not I who gave them space. And who was for emotion all came out.

OP – How are you treating family succession in the company? Is your daughter your natural successor?

VILMAR: Look, that’s how I said it. Aline got her space. She came conquering. For my eldest son, I gave him more space and I offered him a lot of money, but then I saw that really who is an entrepreneur entrepreneur can not use emotion. Dad is father, business is business. Today my son, who has a company in São Paulo and takes care of it, has one who lives in the USA and Aline has conquered this space. And I thought it cool about Aline’s that about four-five years ago I said, “My daughter, the staff began to praise”, even Ian himself. “Look, Aline is developing well, it looks like she’s in a position to be your successor and such, it’s good we work to give more attention and such.” Then I called her (sic) to talk and said: “My daughter, our director and colleagues here so saying that you have a profile to conquer this space”. Then she conquered me when she said, “No, father, when the time come, you analysis us, the three children. I contract a company, it analyzes, suddenly none of the three, if none of the three have competence you hire an outsider to continue the succession of the company”. Then from there she won me even more. I began to pay more attention to her and let her conquer, now I’m calling her more to talk, but I let her conquer. Ian (Correa, vice president) and the other directors have been very supportive and I’m always looking for more. Her time is short and I say, “My daughter, listen to your father here, come to the meetings, so that you can learn more.” I’m 65 years old, I’m going to do 66 and still today I learn with my employees, my friends, I learn to listen, with the press, I learn by watching the political question. This crisis is helping me even more because I like economics.

OP – Once, Aline reported hearing a conversation when she was 8 years old. Do you remember?

VILMAR: Yes, she kept it a secret. She suffered many years and did not know she suffered. She got a complaint from me. It seems like I said it was not the daughter I loved the most, something like that. I do not remember well. And she was the youngest. In fact in 1990 I suffered a very serious accident and she at 10 years old – more or less – gave me so much support. It was the three of them who gave me the most support. She has conquered my heart there and I will say. My children are blessed. None disappointed me. They are wonderful children. Then I went to know that she had a complaint, that I was more attached to the other two (laughs). And now she won and I think it gave her strength. I’ve seen her crying about it in a lecture.

OP – The succession depend on her, the moment it is ready or when you think it is no longer your time to be here, to dedicate so much to the company?

VILMAR – I’m just going to have one more security, that’s her, and I’m more convinced that she is because the other two have also supported and acknowledged that she is more prepared. If the others and the mother also recognize, then I have no more how to evaluate, I can only hope that it will gain more space. It depends on her.

OP – What is still a dream for who arrived where you arrived? Do you still have dreams?

VILMAR – I have!

OP – What are they?

VILMAR – My biggest dream is to see society well. My family is already well, thank God. And that’s what we’re going to work for, keep working, to see the Northeast well. Northeast that in recent years was growing more than the average of Brazil. This is my dream, to see the Northeast grow up more than Brazil. Now, if we are not careful, we can go back to being the Northeastern of the past, to continue to earn 50% per capita income from the South-Center. This is my dream, come closer. Not even for a century.

OP – But what business do you dream design?

VILMAR – To continue growing, with more caution now because the Government can no longer be trusted. Our goal now is to reduce financial liabilities so that we can continue to grow. I was very bold and I think that my boldness helped to grow, but also brought me headache and crisis. I really think that Ivens Dias Branco and the Edson Queiroz Group are two great lessons, good for you to have a solid company, more capitalized and more liquid.

OP – Speaking of Northeast, Ceará and Ivens himself, he said that at first he had to hide the origin of the company. He put on the BR-116 packaging, omitting Ceará. And you bring “Ceará” in the name. What does that mean?

VILMAR – You asked me a wonderful question now, because it was a great surprise for me. And I actually had a disappointment in 1990 when I suffered a lot of competition. At the beginning of the decade, this strong competition began in 1986. I said, “I will not start a business in São Paulo, in São José dos Campos.” That in 1990, 1991. At the age of two my company, if I had not left, had broken. But I am determined, I put, with two years did not give, I left, they pressed me, they pressed me there that I had to leave. Then I saw that a Northeastern was discriminated against at that time. Not today, on the contrary. Today I am proud. Northeast is already respected and thanks to Steel Cearense even more respected in the steel business. Because nobody believed in Steel Ceará. Today we conquered Brazil and sold from Manaus (AM) to Porto Alegre (RS). We have credibility in the market. Our logistics say it is the best in Brazil. Even big competitors, big steelmakers recognize this, and our customer recognizes that. The steel of Sinobras, which they said was not good, as soon as we inaugurated, on the contrary, today is the steel of Brazil. And began with São Paulo. It was the Paulista who valued our steel. The certification certifies that it is one of the best steels they had certified in Brazil.

OP – What does a giant steelmaker like CSP in Ceará mean for your industry?

VILMAR – For Ceará the CSP was of great importance because it, more importantly, the lamination that we were going to do, but with the crisis interrupted. So God knows, when the crisis pass, we can continue the project. But the CSP is of great importance for Ceará, it is generating jobs for Ceará, but in triplicity it has to have lamination. The lamination because this steel is made in plate and is being exported. Even Aço Cearense could absorb 30% of its capacity today. We have already installed capacity for 30% of everything that is produced from the board, except that lamination is lacking, and we do not have capital or credit now to be able to put it. It would be a billion dollars, for the ability of 30% of plate to absorb this plate. But if we work, we will continue and maybe do realize this dream of Ceará. In the North and Northeast there is no lamination, steel plans. Only in the Center-West, Center-South. Even if it is not Aço Cearense, let it be anyone. At the time you have, that the plate is laminated in Ceará, you will see how the economy of Ceará and the Northeast will explode.

OP – Would this lamination project be with Posco?

VILMAR – Seria. But this project is aborted. Even because the steel crisis is not only in Brazil, it is worldwide. But it has improved. China has already resolved to raise price. I think China will continue to rise and this will make this project viable.


In the journey from poor boy to big industrialist you learned many lessons. What is the most valuable you would share with young people who are setting foot on the path of entrepreneurship?

I say Valdelírio, that I know him and I like him, that you do everything with pleasure. First to take pleasure in what you do, to have fun, there are people who have fun with sports, something like that, games, I do not. I have fun working. And I think that those who have fun working tend to grow more than the competitor because we live today is a locomotive behind us and we go ahead. If you slip and the locomotive passes and crushes you. You have to try to do your best. Who is going to undertake must analyze because it is not everyone who was born to be an entrepreneur. Sometimes it has a will but it is not a vocation. You have to have a good head with good reasoning and gain credibility. Today you can not be adventurous, want to win only in the beak, take others. No. My goal was to be honest with customer and supplier. I treat my supplier as well, as well as my client. No use saying “Oh my client is my boss”. The client tell me orders since he gives me some profit, but I have to have price, quality and service to attend well.

Source: O Povo


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