The 42-year-old motorbike-riding CEO of one of Brazil’s biggest shopping empires tells Monocle how he runs such a huge company while staying true to his family ethos.
Firm and fair. That’s how Carlos Jereissati Filho describes how he manages the 2,700 people who work for him in one of Brazil’s largest shopping empires, the Iguatemi Group. His way of life can also be summed up as simple and unfussy: there is no phalanx of bodyguards at his side [they are common in São Paulo] and he darts around the city on a vintage Honda motorcycle st70 or by bicycle. “I try to lead my life in the most easy and natural way,” he says sitting in a fourth-floor office above the mixed-use JK Iguatemi mall he built in 2012.
Jereissati cuts a striking figure in his daily uniform of loafers, jeans and a dark blazer. At 42 years old, he has been CEO of Iguatemi Empresa de Shopping Centers for over a decade, a brand that has a current market value of €473m. The group owns and runs 16 commercial projects – from São Paulo to Rio Grande do Sul and Brasília – and is involved in the purchase and sale of other property, from car parks to advertising spaces.
Jereissati relishes the diversity of his role. “It gives me joy to be head of a company that deals with human behaviour, retail, architecture, urbanism and art,” he says. “These are the spheres of my interest.”Despite its breadth, Iguatemi is still a family outfit. It was his father, Carlos Francisco Ribeiro Jereissati, who built the country’s first shopping mall in São Paulo’s Jardins neighbourhood in 1966. Today, the development stands as a benchmark for quality and service throughout the country and Jereissati still governs by his dad’s hands-on ethos. “My father always says ‘a piece of paper accepts anything,’” he recalls. “[Management] is not about signing documents in an office.”
Although Jereissati has a degree in business administration from São Paulo’s traditional Getúlio Vargas Foundation, he says that it’s his early experience working in the family business that defines his attitude to work. He and his siblings Erika and Pedro spent their summer holidays working.
“In our teenage years we used to do internships in different companies during our school holidays,” he says recalling a stint just after graduating when he spent two years in Ceará state, northeastern Brazil, working in the wheat mill his grandfather founded in the late 1950s. “I used to drive all over that region and I learned a lot about managing different profiles.” [The Mill, Grande Moinho Cearense, is still family owned and turned a profit of around €385m in 2012.]
His career in retail started shortly after. “When I came back, I started working in the shopping mall business,” he says. “First as a manager, then as director of operations, then in the finance division until I took over [from my father] as ceo in 2002.” Since then, he has set about expanding the family empire. His most notable project – and the darling of the group – is JK Iguatemi.
Built by Miami-based architects Arquitectonica, the development introduced brands such as Lanvin and Miu Miu to the Brazilian market for the very first time. His vision for malls has been inspired by regular trips to Asia. “Asia is a highly developed region when it comes to services and retail developments,” he says. “We need to learn from them on how to improve the connection of the public with the private space.
Japan specifically has some of the most inspiring architects in the world doing that, such as Tadao Ando and Shigeru Ban.” His next project is a shopping mall in São José do Rio Preto, just outside São Paulo, scheduled to open in April. He sees great potential for further growth. “Brazilians are a people who are still discovering the pleasures of consumption that other countries already had long ago,” he says. “Twenty years ago we used to buy everything outside the country: shoes, make-up, even toothpaste. I am sure that this consumption will continue to evolve in Brazil for a long time. And we will be there, following their desires.”
What time do you like to be in the office at your desk?
Between 08.00 and 08.15.
Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership: at MBA school or on the job?
I wouldn’t say that an MBA is not important but my own experience was very practical. I learned day-by-day at the company.
Describe your management style.
I want my employees to share the same dreams, the same intensity I do.
Are tough decisions best taken by one person?
The board of directors must be involved but [every] decision is always taken by one person.
Do you want to be liked or respected?
Both. To only respect, or to fear, your employer is bullshit.
What does your support team look like?
My team must have the same values as me: integrity, hard work, commitment and simplicity. [Jereissati has a close team of 11 who work with him.]
What technology do you carry on a trip?
An iPad and iPhone. I am not addicted to technology but it is essential to get work done.
Do you read management books?
A few. The most recent was Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, by Larry Bossidy.
Run in the morning? Wine with lunch? Socialise with your team after work?
I do half an hour of aerobic exercise everyday. And I socialise with my team during lunch. But I never drink.
What would your key management advice be?
Talk less, do more.