SAO PAULO -- The global economy may be grinding to a halt, but Odebrecht, one of Brazil's largest conglomerates, is still experiencing some overheating. Business is brisk from infrastructure to petrochemical plants. And then there is new business, from oil rigs to soccer stadiums ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
Marcelo Odebrecht, the 42-year-old CEO of the conglomerate, has a full plate before him. He hires 3,000 employees every month and still finds it hard to keep up with demand. Last year Odebrecht registered sales of $32.3 billion (net earnings of $1.7 billion), and double-digit growth is on the horizon again this year.
Yet, Marcelo Odebrecht, who was promoted to the leadership of the holding company in 2008 after running the engineering company Construtora Norberto Odebrecht (CNO) for six years, would rather adopt a low profile.
"I like to say that the CEO of Odebrecht is more like the Queen of England," he tells Latin Trade during an interview on the 32nd floor of a modern business tower overlooking the Marginal Pinheiros in Sao Paulo. "My role is more related to the preservation of the culture of the group, and [to] make sure we have the right people in the right place."
Odebrecht is now involved in ethanol biofuels and large defense contracts, such as a new shipyard for submarines near Rio de Janeiro, in partnership with France's DENS; but also in retailing activities in Angola, at the request of the government there.
"Diversification did not result from some strategic plan that was decided in some office in Sao Paulo," Odebrecht says. "We are a very decentralized organization. Decisions are being taken by executives in every country."
The company is increasingly investing directly in new projects. "In Peru, we have already invested more than $2 billion in public-private partnerships in various concessions in the past five years, as well as $1 billion in a road concession in Colombia, and more than $3 billion in a Braskem petrochemical plant in Mexico. In the U.S., we have become the leader in polypropylene following the acquisition of some of Dow's assets [in August 2011]," Odebrecht says. "Our 30-year experience is enabling us to take advantage of the current situation to internationalize our business not only as a service provider, but also in our investment capacity."
Odebrecht, which was founded by Marcelo's grandfather Norberto in 1945 and later run by his father, Emilio, became one the first multilatinas...