On Wednesday night, we arrive in Rio de Janeiro. It’s a quiet night for most of us as a few head out to Garota de Ipanema (which literally translates to “Girl from Ipanema”), close to our hotel and right in the heart of Ipanema. This restaurant is where the famous song “Girl from Ipanema” is said to have been written by Antônio Carlos Joim and Vinícius de Moraes. Our very Carioca (what people from Rio de Janeiro are called) tour guide, Raquel, informs us the next morning that the actual girl who inspired the song, Helo Pinheiro, is now in her 60s, living in Sao Paulo as a successful business woman with her own line of Brazilian bikinis named appropriately after her song.
That night, we couldn’t really appreciate the natural beauty of the city until we departed on our bus the next morning. It was hard to be as excited about the meetings that day when our first sight was Ipanema beach followed by a drive on Avenida Atlantica, which lines Copacabana beach.
Ipanema means “rough waters” in Guaraní and we don’t find that hard to believe as over the next days, some of us witnessed a couple of rescue drills when people swam too far off shore.
The mile long Ipanema beach runs from Leblon on the west to Arpoador in the east. Ipanema and Leblon are more residential than Copacabana. The Avenida Vieira Souto that lines Ipanema is one of the most prestigious addresses in Rio. Arpoador extends the beach another half mile and is popular with the surfers (pics).
Next to the east is Copacabana which means “blue ocean” and is a famous tourist beach from which you can see Pao de Açucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain). It stretches over three miles long. We learn that this is the place to go on New Year’s Eve, where Cariocas decked in white and holding flowers fill the beach. At midnight, they then throw the flowers into the water.
But alas, we have some work to do, so we head downtown to “centro” where most of the city’s financial and commercial businesses are. Just like in Sao Paulo, this is also the historic part of city and its colonial past is evident in many of the buildings, some of which date all the way back to the 16th century.
Our first stop that morning was Petrobras. Its office building is a massive structure that would clash with the historic centro, except that it is surrounded by equally 60s/70s style modern architecture. The building is right next to the Catedral Metropolitana do Rio de Janeiro which can fit up to 20,000 people!
Petrobras is the third largest energy company in the world. Although a publicly traded corporation, its majority stockholder is the Government of Brazil. As an energy company, Petrobras is engaged in exploration and production, refining, oil and natural gas trade and transportation, petrochemicals, derivatives, electric energy, biofuel and other renewable energy source distribution. We learned from Carlos Henrique Castro that 95% of its total oil production comes from the South/Southeast region of the country where 70-75% of the country’s wealth resides.
Petrobras is moving from oil and gasoline to other types of energy fuels and it is now, in fact, the third producer of ethanol in the word. It decided to go into ethanol production because there was simply not enough ethanol in the market to supply its demand. Growth in fuel consumption in Brazil has exploded in the past years. From 2010-2011, it grew 24%. This increased demand came from the rise of Brazil’s class C and D, which had more disposable income and the ability to purchase cars. This increase also forced Petrobras to rely more on imports for the past years, decreasing profits.
Their future production targets could seem aggressive since they plan to increase capacity in their platforms to 6 million bpd by 2020 when it is close to 2 million bpd today. However, this is due to their confidence in the increased supply they will have from their pre-salt reservoirs (for more information: http://www.petrobras.com.br/minisite/presal/en/questions-answers/).
After our meeting, we headed for lunch at Confeitaria Colombo which is known for its desserts; specifically, its custard pie. Yet again, I discovered a new type of food I liked and became a new fan! This tearoom dates back to 1894 and has a nice mix of Art Noveaux and Belle Époque décor.
We then explore a bit of “centro” and head to the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) to meet with Rodrigo Keller and Andrei Francalacci.
BNDES is the main financing agent for development in Brazil. Founded in 1952, its operations have evolved in accordance with the Brazilian socio-economic challenges, and now they include support for exports, technological innovation, sustainable socio-environmental development and the modernization of public administration, although it primarily funds infrastructure projects. It is 100% state-owned under private law and it works as both a first-tier and second-tier bank. Its loan recipients vary from legal entities established in Brazil (including foreign ones) to private individuals and Brazilian public administrations. We learned that it participates in companies from the seed level to mature and public. In fact, it funded Natura (which we visited last Monday) at the seed level all the way up to its IPO.
Many of us were curious about the financing and planning for the World Cup. BNDES is financing many of these projects including the development and renovation of new arenas, transportation updates, service training programs, and airport renovations. They have, however, turned down some arena projects, reminding us that they don’t just approve any public projects, but in fact, have strict evaluating procedures when deciding which projects to invest in.
Finally, on Friday we have our last meeting at the Municipality of Rio with Eduarda La Rocque, the Economics Secretary.
She tells us that right now is “Rio’s time”. The city has attracted a lot of international media thanks to movies like the animated “Rio” and because it will host international events such as 20+ (The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/index.html), the World Cup 2014, and the Olympics 2016. To prepare for these events the city has ongoing investments of over 130 billion BRL. Although we have heard otherwise in prior meetings, La Rocque is very optimistic about the city’s ability to host. For example, we learned that for the 2016 Olympics, Rio is already ahead of schedule in its infrastructure improvements! She believes the games will revitalize the city in the same way they did to Barcelona in 1992. For this reason, they are investing in improving areas such as Rio’s Port Maravilha (www.portomaravilhario.com.br/).
It is curious that most of us thought Rio would be a bit different than what we have experienced because so many of our friends and family who had previously visited warned us of how difficult and dangerous the city was. Movies like “City of God” also did not help shape our image of Rio de Janeiro. Yet, as Eduarda informed us, the city has changed a lot and become much safer and welcoming to tourists and businesses. This is thanks to initiatives like the UPP (Pacifying Police Unit of Rio, focusing mostly on favelas, see upprj.com). Continued improvements in Rio’s infrastructure and safety are essential for its growth and hosting success.