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Monday, February 6, 2023
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‘I was raised in scarcity and that’s what I try to make the most of’, says former black waiter, now a partner in a brokerage

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“You’re going to laugh at life now, let me show you,” warns Gilvan Bueno, 41, interrupting the video interview as he shrinks his body to make part of his 1.86 meter height fit on the screen.

From inside the office on the 18th floor of the building with large windows framing the Sugarloaf Mountain, the smiling black man points to a lower building on Praia de Botafogo, about 700 meters ahead. “We’re here, and over there, look, that was the pizzeria where I worked.”

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Almost 15 years ago, Bueno left his job as a waiter at a restaurant in a mall in the south of Rio de Janeiro to pursue a career in finance. For 15 months he has been an executive at Órama, one of the main stockbrokers in the country, of which he also became a partner in an arm of the company focused on financial education.

During the hour-long conversation with Sheetthe executive detailed how he used his personal skills to make up for years of delay in his professional training to be able to compete in an environment full of white professionals trained in top universities.

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“I had to camouflage myself,” he jokes.

Bueno believed in his own ascension at the age of 27, when he learned the story of black American entrepreneur Chris Gardner, played by Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happiness”, a film he watched for the first time in the early hours of 2008, he says.

“I’m at a friend’s house, everyone is sleeping and I was in the living room. This movie starts playing. It stuck in my head. I’ve watched the movie more than 50 times. My daughters [de 10 e 20 anos de idade] watched. I always ask people to watch it, for those who want to do impossible things,” he says.

Imitating Gardner, Bueno worked and studied “like crazy”, in his words, to get the certification that authorized him to become a finance professional and, thus, the job in the first brokerage.

A few years later, when he lost a promotion at an important investment bank for not speaking English, he had the dimension of the abyss that separated black and poor people from the children of richer families who occupy the best positions in the market.

His “biggest professional defeat”, as Bueno describes the episode, made him realize that the social mobility he sought would not be achieved through traditional guidance on financial education.

“It took me a while to understand the socioeconomic challenge. If you asked me a few years ago about financial education, I would have a speech like this: save BRL 50 a month because at the end of the year you will have BRL 600. This does not work for the 100 million poorest Brazilians,” he says.

Raised by his grandmother in Linhares (ES), although he was born in Salvador (BA), Bueno went from poverty to misery at the age of 11, when he lost his mother, who sent money to the family from Rio, where he worked. The avocado tree in Grandma’s backyard was sometimes the only source of food. “To this day I don’t like avocado very much.”

At 15, he also decided to try life in Rio. He left his grandmother Diva Consuelo a note in which he explained that he was leaving so as not to be a burden for her anymore.

In the Rio de Janeiro capital, he sold recyclable materials, was a street vendor and a “workhorse”, as he says, at the time, they called mason’s helpers who carried bags of cement on their backs.

For those who, like him, leave many positions behind in the labor market race, it is in the development of essential professional skills that all available resources must be applied.

“If you’re at the base of the pyramid, my guidance for financial education today is for you to invest in four skills: communication, sales, networking and the decision-making process”, he says.

It was the generous tips from customers at the pizzeria and some job offers spontaneously made by shopkeepers at the mall in Botafogo that made him realize that good communication was the basis for starting the journey.

Communicating well, he explains, requires a lot of reading to gain vocabulary. “I studied a lot at the National Library, while eating bread with mortadella”. It was also necessary to learn English, a skill he managed to hone after a season studying in New York supported by three years of economics. “My wife and I had to get through the day with something between $10 and $15 to eat, do everything.”

“If you communicate well, you can sell well. Those who sell well earn commissions and are not restricted to the salaries paid in Brazil, which are very low”, he says, regarding the second step of his “investment plan”.

The importance of networking Bueno learned even before becoming a waiter, when he received an invitation to work at the mall from a customer who bought coxinhas that he sold on the Uruguaiana subway.

“If you communicate well and sell well, you also sell your ideas and thus build your network of contacts”, he says.

“With my networking, I was in a field that took me to other people. I was a waiter, but I was a waiter in the south of Rio de Janeiro”, he says. “My professor at college, where I was a scholarship student, was my customer at the pizzeria. Today’s customers were also my customers at the pizzeria.”

As for the decision process, Bueno describes it as the ability to understand which financial choices can be made by people with few resources. “It’s no use saving money and getting into credit card debt that will cost you a lot more.”

“The financial market has a beauty because it works with scarce resources, but it leverages that. I never had the feast, I always lived on leftovers. I’m a guy raised within scarcity and it’s scarcity that I try to make the most of.”

Bueno set up a project in 2020 in partnership with Febraban (Brazilian Federation of Banks) to train young people from Pelourinho, in Salvador, and help them obtain certifications from Anbima (Brazilian Association of Financial Market Entities). In a group of 90 young people, mostly black, 70% were approved.

Upon returning to Rio de Janeiro, he decided to open a financial education company, Financier Educação, the project, however, started operating just 15 days before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite this difficulty, the company’s diversity initiatives led it to receive the Black Founders Fund seal from the Google for Startups program.

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