A brilliant story with an open path to the future

por The Winners
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João Roberto de Moura Benites was born in São Paulo countryside, but started to build his career as an executive in the paint industry in the city of Sao Paulo.35 years of experience leading business and projects in five continents.Benite’s story begins at Reichhold, passes through Akzo Nobel, gains strength at Valspar and later at Sherwin Williams. The Valspar Corporation was an American multinational giant, publicly traded and with over 200 years of foundation.
During his 10 years working in Valspar’s corporate area in the USA, Benites had a prominent position, accumulating the presidency of Latin America with the position of senior vice president of several global businesses of the corporation.
The executive was the first non-American elected as corporate officer in 200 years of history. With the acquisition of Valspar by Sherwin Williams, he was invited to become Latam’s regional president and to integrate two leading companies in Latin America.
Benites was an integral part of Valspar’s expansion around the world. He coordinated various acquisitions on several continents, merging operations, implementing new businesses, creating environments and opportunities. The  executive’s timeline, who has a degree in metallurgical engineering from the Faculty of Industrial Engineering (FEI), shows his efficiency as administrator, manager and leader. His career’s stories are told in the interview below on The Winners’ Golden Page. Additionally, Benites talks about his outlook for the future.

 

The Winners – You are from the São Paulo countryside and came to study in São Paulo. Was your career designed according to a big goal or did things just happen?


João Roberto Benites – I was born in São José do Rio Preto, in the interior of the state of São Paulo, a grandson of Spanish and Portuguese immigrants. My parents Afonso and Anna have always lived a simple and humble life in which the important thing was to teach me and my brother, Renato, catholic, ethic and moral principles.
My parents always worked hard to be able to afford our studies. My father had a rice processing machine, and my mother was a primary teacher. I went to public schools while living in Rio Preto.
At the age of 17, I moved to São Paulo to prepare for the entrance exam.
Since then began my struggle, focus and determination in search of a dream: I wanted to form my family, and then become president of a multinational company and live in the USA.


TW – How paints and colors can influence urban planning and improve the visual aspect of cities?


JRB – The link between the perception of color and the existence of light gave rise to the first thoughts on the subject in antiquity, when color was defined as the property of light or the property of bodies. Plato (427BC–347BC) founded the Academy of Athens, where one of his disciples Aristotle defended the thought of colors belonging to objects.
It was Leonardo Da Vinci who created the first vision called “Theory of Colors”, published more than a century

 

The Winners – You are from the São Paulo countryside and came to study in São Paulo. Was your career designed according to a big goal or did things just happen?


João Roberto Benites – I was born in São José do Rio Preto, in the interior of the state of São Paulo, a grandson of Spanish and Portuguese immigrants. My parents Afonso and Anna have always lived a simple and humble life in which the important thing was to teach me and my brother, Renato, catholic, ethic and moral principles.
My parents always worked hard to be able to afford our studies. My father had a rice processing machine, and my mother was a primary teacher. I went to public schools while living in Rio Preto.
At the age of 17, I moved to São Paulo to prepare for
 entrance exam.
Since then began my struggle, focus and determination in search of a dream: I wanted to form my family, and then become president of a multinational company and live in the USA.


TW – How paints and colors can influence urban planning and improve the visual aspect of cities?


JRB – The link between the perception of color and the existence of light gave rise to the first thoughts on the subject in antiquity, when color was defined as the property of light or the property of bodies.                                                                  Plato (427BC–347BC) founded the Academy of Athens, where one of his disciples Aristotle defended the
thought of colors belonging to objects.
It was Leonardo Da Vinci who created the first visioncalled “Theory of Colors”, published more than a century after his death in the “Trattato dela Pittura”, texts dedicated to color and its impacts in the urban perspective.
Urban planners deal with paints and colors in the process of advising measures that can improve the quality of life of a given urban community, proposing how to beautify it and make it more comfortable, and economically viable for all inhabitants.
In a more contemporary pers-pective, in the perception of the urban landscape, color is seen as a factor of recognition
and identity of a place. Color is an element that brings a sense of belonging to the city’s image, influencing the reading about it and the quality of life.
The real estate market has many examples of the application of color such as valuation and social identity in projects in Brazil and abroad. Some examples are: São Paulo (Edifício Brasil – Guto Requena), Seoul (Atelier 3D Couleur), Chile (Nuria Espina), USA (Gallery of Central Arizona), China (Da Chang Muslim Cultural), Korea (Gallery of Korean), and
Hong Kong (Technlogical Institute).


TW – What is the representativeness of the paint sector within the chemical industry? How big is the global paint market? And in Brazil, what is the impact of the paint market for jobs and the economy?


JRB – The chemical industry plays a key role in regional economies in all parts of the world. In 2019, the International Council of Chemical Associations indicated that the chemical industry contributed with a global GDP of US$
5.7 trillion (equivalent to 7% of world GDP) and maintaining 120 million jobs worldwide.
In Brazil, according to the Brazilian Chemical Industry Association (Abiquim), in 2018, the chemical industry had a total net sales of US$ 127.9 billion, which represented approximately 12% of Brazilian industrial GDP (2.5% of GDP total) and employed around 2 million people.
The estimate for the value of the world paint market is US$ 140 billion, with the largest Asia / Pacific region accounting for 42% of that total, followed by Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) with 29%, then North America with 22% and
Latin America with 7%. Brazil is the fifth largest paint market in the world, with hundreds of paint manufacturers, which are estimated to employ 25,000 people. The paint industry turnover in Brazil is around US$ 3,9 billion and represents 40% of the Latin America paints and coatings market.


TW – How do you evaluate the moment of the Brazilian economy?


JRB – The Brazilian economy maintained, throughout the third quarter, the path of recovery after the shock of the pandemic of covid-19 between March and April. Aside from the gradual easing of restrictions on the mobility of people, the extension of emergency aid, the expansion of credit to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) with a Treasury guarantee and the expansionary monetary 

João Roberto and Vânia Benites

policy help to explain the recovery observed since May.
The economy is expected to return to growth in the fourth quarter of 2020, recovering part of the losses in the second quarter. As a result, the projected drop in GDP for the year was revised from 6.4%, by the Central Bank, to 5%, while for 2021 the projected growth was maintained at 3.6%.
In the short term, the intensity of the recovery still depends on the evolution of the pandemic, especially on the continuation of the trajectory of reducing the number of new cases and deaths.  The effective control of the dissemination of covid-19 is particularly important for the service sector, which has been underperforming compared to others due to the restrictions still in place and the cautious behavior on the part of consumers.
The outlook for the economy depends also, or mainly, on the reduction of uncertainties regarding fiscal policy in the face of the sharp increase in the deficit and public debt resulting from measures to combat the effects of the pandemic, as well as the pressures accumulating due to the increase in spending.


TW – How was your trajectory in the paint market until the foundation of The Valspar Corporation in Brazil?


JRB – I worked at Tintas Coral for 11 years, always in contact with Valspar, which was the licensor of technology in industrial paints and coatings for Coral. In 1996 the Bunge Group sold Tintas Coral to the British
Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), a relevant global competitor for Valspar.
With the impact of the sale of Tintas Coral to ICI, Valspar Corporation made the decision to enter
the Brazilian market and compete directly with local producers of industrial paints.
In March 1997 I left Tintas Coral (then ICI) to found Valspar Brasil. Also in 1997, with the need of a manufacturing plant for local production, in addition to support in the administrative and financial areas, we created Valspar Renner Revestimentos para Embalagens, a joint venture with Grupo Renner Herrmann S.A. Four years later, in 2001 Valspar Renner was 100% acquired by Valspar, a period when Valspar was already present in almost every country in South America.


TW – What kinds of obstacles did you encounter when Valspar entered Brazil and what challenges would you highlight?


JRB – We were a small company, still developing and hungry for growth and profit. We really had many
challenges, from the lack of competitiveness to buy local raw materials, financial resources to pay high salaries to attract good executives,systems that could integrate local results with corporate, union pressure, aside from the things that all Brazilian entrepreneurs know when it comes to the Brazil cost. To fight against all challenges, I used to joke with our employees that “all things could be solved with more profitable sales”.
Our focus was on expansion and we did it very well with profitability that caught the corporation’s attention in the US.
In 2005, we made the important acquisition of Aries Coatings in Mexico and with the merger of Mexico, our operation started to manage all the Latin America region. Valspar Latin America was expanding with increasing profits!


TW – What was it like to be the first non-American elected a corporate officer for Valspar, a traditional and publicly traded company in the USA over 200 years old?


JRB – Due to having founded Valspar in the region and the spectacular results we were achieving every year, the Corporation’s board of directors made a historic decision to elect a foreigner as a corporate officer for the
first time in 200 years.
It was unbelievable, incredible, one of the things I am most proud of in my career. I received praise from many people for many years, and that is something I will never forget. After my promotion, invitations to move to the USA began to appear.


TW – Why was it important to move to the USA?
JRB – With the inclusion of Mexico in my region, I decided to accumulate the position of president of Valspar México for a while to be able to get to know the Mexican paint market in depth and interact with local customers. Meaning, I had toleave my family in Brazil and started totravel a lot, being in Mexico several weeks a month.                                                    Then Valspar’s CEO said that I could move with my family to Dallas, Texas, because I could take care of Mexico and Latin America from there and would be just two hours away from Minneapolis – Valspar’s
headquarters.
Being in the USA I would certainly strengthen my contact with the other officers and the board of directors.


TW – You worked in the USA for almost 10 years.                                                                                                       What was it like to live outside Brazil for a decade?


JRB – The ten years I lived in the USA were very intense in my life and my family’s, because in addition to being
President of Latin America, I have also accumulated the role of senior VP, directing several global businesses at Valspar.
This led me to travel the world every month.
We initially lived in Dallas, Texas. I had been promoted and became president of two global companies in the group: Engineered Polymer Solutions (EPS) and Color Corporation of America (CCA).
After three years in Dallas, we moved to Minneapolis with the mission of taking over the direction of more global businesses, in addition to finally being in the “heart” of the corporation, alongside the CEO to be able to help
him take care of Valspar’s global expansion.
I gained additional executive responsibilities to global expand both the automotive paint business and the coil coatings business.
Acquisitions of competing companies have always been an important part of Valspar’s global expansion and this was another area to which I dedicated myself a lot. We made several acquisitions, and the most difficult part was always the integration of the company bought into Valspar’s culture. This required my time in several countries.


TW – Valspar was purchased by Sherwin Williams in 2017 for $ 11,2 billion. How was the integration phase of these companies?


JRB – The process of integrating of two giant companies is never easy but in this case it was done incredibly efficiently globally. In Latin America, the portfolio of the companies was complementary, and companies had a great presence in almost all countries in the region.
When this acquisition took place, I was invited to return to Brazil and the mission was not just to integrate the companies. There was also the challenge of accelerating growth and profitability in
the Latam region.
We formed a team of very experienced executives from both organizations, created a huge list of synergies, listed the strategies to pursue the goals of growth and expansion of profitability and started to control in detail the achieved results.
The executive team did a fantastic job and already in 2018 the results of the region were above expectations.


TW – Do you have any strategy to obtain results with people, teams in complex and multicultural
environments?


JRB – First, I try to understand very well the challenges ahead and the results I need to achieve. With that in mind, I try to understand as deeply as possible the profile of each person I have available to form a team.
Here comes a fundamental question: you need to think hard and understand the cultural issues of the people you are interacting with, because the same goal needs to be addressed differently in China or in the US or in Latin America.
You need to harmonize, according to the local culture, the way you will explain the goals and strategies to achieve them, so that the team understands well the plan drawn up and agreed, so that they are finally committed to delivering the results.

Creating alliances with people on the team is another key point. Transparency, and consistency in what you say and do are critical to success.


TW – From these professional experiences, what learning was most significant for your personal growth?


JRB – Without a doubt, my greatest learning was to create connections and relationships with employees, customers, suppliers, and other partners in different parts of the world, with different cultures.
You then realize that you need to analyze a lot and carefully to learn how to interact with each culture.
I usually say that you can only say you know something about a culture when you are able to present your ideas and convince the other. If you learn to persuade, you are beginning to understand a culture.
The most amazing learning was that no matter what country or continent you are in, you are always interacting with people and anywhere in the world human beings like to be heard, respected and treated well.


TW – Other than Brazil, which was the most striking of the five continents where you worked?


JRB – Several aspects were important in my work outside Brazil. Cultural issues were undoubtedly the most significant.
The work in the USA, as a corporate officer, was marked by a corporate posture, formality, systematic vision, and a commitment to the solid results expected by the board of directors, market analysts, and shareholders.
Our results in the USA have always been very consistent.
Expansion work outside the Americas was spectacular. I have always been impressed by the size of the markets in Asia and the huge amount of opportunities you find in each place you visit. Valspar’s expansion in Asia has always been significant.
The EMEIA region (Europe, Middle East, India and Africa) is certainly very broad with different cultural aspects and strong competition from multinational giants in the sector. Our growth in this region was spectacular, including several strategic acquisitions.


TW – When a company performs very well and for a long time, there is also curiosity about the internal climate. Can you talk about it?


JRB – One of the great secrets for Valspar to perform so well, for more than two centuries, was the capacity of its employees, who truly worked as shareholders.
The internal climate has always been fantastic.
Employees were extremely proud to work for thecorporation and appreciated the way in which the company expanded so profitably around the world.
The transparency in the actions of the executives, the structure with few hierarchical levels which facilitated quick decision-making, the autonomy given to the management team and the excellent management of human resources
in valuing the professional made the internal climate really differentiated, and a key part of Valspar culture.


TW – Even though you moved to the US and traveled a lot because of your position, you still found time to study at major universities. What was the best program for CEOs you attended?


JRB – Even seasoned leaders have never worked in an environment with such volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity before. They need to act more decisively and always focus on strategy. Therefore, it is essential to find time to update in good universities. You need to negotiate the time you will be in school with your family and your company.
I attended three fantastic programs for CEOs and strongly recommend them. Firstly I attended Strategic Management at Berkeley – University of California, the second oldest business school in the USA , then I studied at the University of Chicago – Booth School, the program was incredible, very high level. The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania offers however the best experience for CEOs. A program only for experienced executives and previously accepted by the school.
Executives stay within the university for five weeks, engaged in classes and other academic activities, with little contact with their world outside of school.In contact with highly qualified other executives, experienced professors, and special guests, you develop a global perspective that

Vânia, Daniel and João Roberto Benites holding a picture of their daugther, who lives in the USA

can help you understand new opportunities to compete successfully. The most interesting thing is the network created with the entire group during the course. The connection goes beyond the school. I still speak to my
group of friends every 45 days by videoconference.


TW – Don’t you think that the concern with the environment still has little space in the companies’ values?


JRB – The concern with environmental preservation is a recent phenomenon. In 1972 the United Nations (UN) began to discuss issues of climate change and its effects on humanity. In 1983, with the creation of the World Commission on
Environment and Development, the term “Sustainable Development” was born.
Sustainability has been the subject of many debates in our society. After all, the impacts of human activity, mainly industrial, on nature have already caused profound damage and, if nothing is done, it can further aggravate the quality of life in large cities.

Milto Oliveira, João Roberto Benites and Francisco Carvalho recalling the success of Valspar ‘s foundation in Brazil

Therefore, it is essential that companies adopt a
proactive stance and are prepared to minimize the losses
resulting from their processes on nature.
Being sustainable is so much more than just being concerned about environmental impacts. It is to structure the productive processes in a harmonious way, in which the development and protection of natural resources are business behaviors.
In Brazil, the pursuit of sustainable sectorial development is a commitment made by the paint chain. Examples of this include the program to comply with the National Solid Waste Policy and the Coatings Care Program, as well as the most diverse activities in which knowledge about the topic is disseminated and best practices are shared.


TW – And how to reconcile work and family, considering your numerous commitments?
JRB – This is a theme we always argue about because my career has been marked by very frequent international trips.
My family has always been established in cities with complete infrastructure, so that I could travel a little
more peacefully.
The secret is to enjoy the time I spend at home together, with quality relationships. Also, we plan two vacation trips per year.


TW – Focusing on another activity, some hobby or sport helps a lot in the day-to-day performance, as doctors and occupational psychologists say. Do you have any?


JRB – I like football and tennis, but I’ve been a fan of fishing since childhood. I started fishing with my father when I was 7 years old in the rivers of the region of São José do Rio Preto and never stopped looking for fishy rivers in Brazil and abroad.
I did several peculiar fishing trips in the frozen Minnesota lakes, where I lived. I confess that the most fun part of ice fishing was the drinks we had to keep us warm.


TW – Recently, a joint venture between the Votorantim Cimentos Group, Gerdau and Tigre, bought Triider, a services marketplace that connects bricklayers and people who need to do works. The plan is to create a “one-stop shop” for this professional market. Is it a trend?

JRB – I really believe in this concept, as we are seeing it working very well and growing rapidly in several countries around the world.
In the USA, for example, professionals are treated in a very special manner in places, not always very large, but with a complete line of support products and services, including credit, that they need in their daily lives.
Many stores serve professionals registered by phone or online and deliver quickly, directly to the
construction sites.
Professional loyalty to the store and vice versa is a fundamental part of the long-term relationship strategy.


TW – Your career puts you in a prominent position in the market. What kinds of professional projects are there in your life?
JRB – The goal is to expand my role as Board Member for companies in Brazil, and abroad. In Brazil I am a board member certified by the Brazilian Institute of Corporate Governance (IBGC). Consultancy in business strategies are structured through J.R.Benites Advisory.
In the area of new investments I intend to continue investing resources in J.R.Benites Capital, since I am always looking to undertake in businesses with great growth potential and value generation.


TW – The major paint manufacturers in Latin America recognize that you have a consolidated, unconventional career, being the highest-ranking Latin American executive within a publicly traded multinational paint company. What message would you give to entrepreneurs, businesspeople and corporate leaders?


JRB – I am really honored to know that the market approves of the work I have been doing for over 35 years and I can’t find words to thank all those who have supported me in this long journey.
I believe that my election as Valspar Corporate Officer made all the difference so that I could have other opportunities to work closely with the corporation’s CEO, in the expansion of Valspar globally.
The message for leaders is that they never give up investing in their human resources. They make a difference to ensure your company’s prosperous longevity.
With the covid-19 pandemic event, many companies asked their employees to work from home. And they liked the
experience. Home office work will certainly change the way some companies will operate going forward. However be
very careful as this can be a trap in developing relationships.
It has never been more important to be close to your employee, to understand their real needs and invest in their progress.


TW – What is the future of paint technologies? Is greater durability to be expected?


JRB – The technological development of the paint market, driven by the large multinationals in the sector, continually seeks to increase performance and new features, combined with sustainability. Odorless paints, reflective paints, anti-graffiti, anti-fouling, anti-fog, anti-scratch, among many other features, are already being commercialized.
Some other possibilities being researched are vegetable paints, formulated from lignin, a by-product of paper production and a residual product from ethanol production.
It is possible to make structurally colored organisms in laboratories. They are bacteria whose colonies have
bright metallic colors. This opens the possibility of genetically manipulating these bacteria on a large scale to produce biodegradable and non-toxic paints.
Researchers also have studies regarding selfrepairing paints that inhibit the corrosion of metallic structures. They are nano capsules that break when cracks start to appear in the paint surface.
The paints of the future will continue to allow consumers to be surprised by their performance, features and colors, but in addition, a continuous commitment to the environmental preservation of our planet

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