Wilson Ferreira Jr: Transformational leadership in the Brazilian energy sector

por The Winners
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Wilson Ferreira Júnior, president of Vibra (formerly BR Distribuidora), was born in São Paulo, has a degree in Electrical Engineer, a Bachelor ́s in Business Administration from Mackenzie University, and a Master ́s degree in Energy from USP. The executive has been in the sector for more than three decades, being a reference in the national and international market. He accumulates awards and honors that make him one of the greatest experts in the energy sector in Brazil. His first job in the energy sector was as an engineer at CESP (Companhia Energética de São Paulo), he held several positions until becoming director of Distribution (1995 to 1998). He was president of Rio Grande Energia from 1998 to 2000, chairman of the Administration Board of Bandeirante Energia S. A. from 2000 to 2001 and president of CPFL Paulista from 2000 to 2002. In 2002, he became president of CPFL Energia, where he stood until 2016. He was also president of the Brazilian Association of Electric Energy Distributors (Abradee) and president of the Brazilian Association of Infrastructure and Basic Industries (Abdib). In July 2016, he went back to the public sector as president of Eletrobras, where he remained for four years in a successful journey. During his operation, the company became more innovative, competitive and achieved almost R$ 11 billion in profit in 2020. Leading Vibra since March 2021, innovation plans are constant. Supporter of a policy of investments in renewable energy sources and capital opening, he acts in open management plans capable of putting companies and Brazil in the best competitive positions worldwide. Learn more about this executive who has built his life and career for the benefit of Brazil and what he thinks.

The Winners – When did you realize that your vocation was in the area of Engineering?

Wilson Ferreira Júnior – Believe me, Engineering was not the first option that came into my life. When I was still in high school, dealing with the dilemma of all teenagers about which career to pursue, I took, not only one but two career interest tests. And I was not satisfied with none of the results. If I were to rely only on the test, I would have pursuit Medicine. On the second test, however, the counselor talked to me and pointed me another way. She told me that I had a humanistic vision and that I could study Electrical Engineering because that would be a way for me to work with services to the people and the society. So that is what I did and I never regretted this decision. Engineering shaped my way of thinking, seeing the world and working. Its principles have guided me this far.

 

TW – And in these 40 years of profession, what would it be your great landmark, your great contribution?

WFJ – The first landmark of my career was the companies ́ restructuring. I have always pursuit to achieve operational excellence, cost reduction and the best service wherever I worked. This marked my trajectory since CESP, the São Paulo Energy Company, which is where I started. I started there as an intern and I developed myself within the company until the director position. At that time the president was Andrea Matarazzo and we worked together to turn it into a much more efficient company. I also left this landmark on the other companies I led: Elektro, Rio Grande Energia, CPFL and Eletrobras. As a result of that, I received the National Quality Award several times. And this is very important for society: in the energy sector, a more efficient service provider company better serves its customers and is cheaper. The country only gains from it. A company that provides bad service is more expensive and damages society in several ways. That is why it is essential to always seek efficiency, and Engineering gives us the tools we need to execute these complex challenges.

TW – Talking about challenges, what is Brazil’s current position in this moment of the energy transition? In what status are we?

WFJ – Despite the current scenario, it is important to point out that Brazil is one of the countries with the cleanest energy matrix in the world, and the transition to a low-carbon economy will be influenced by the local context, the policies aimed to encourage the expansion of the energy sector, especially in renewable resource, in addition to biofuel, that is also the reference to the opening of the gas market, which is the fuel for the transition to a world with lower emissions of carbon dioxide. By 2030, we will have 50% of the clean energy matrix, the previous target was 48%. We have to highlight that the country still has a huge potential for the use of renewable sources, such as wind power, solar power and biomass. An important point for the progress of this process is the continuous opening of the energy and gas market, expanding the scope of the free market.

 

TW – How do you and Vibra see the idea of the energy transition? What are the company ́s actions in this regard?

WFJ – The energy transition is a society demand. The Stone Age has not ended with a hack of stone and the Oil Age will not end with a lack of oil. Vibra wants to be the ideal partner for this transformation and we have been working towards this change. Our mission is to offer support with technology and innovation, bringing best practices and solutions to our customers and consumers. We will always be ready to take the fuel molecule or electron to where the customer needs it. The change in consumption begins now and will be long-term, for the next 20 or 30 years. Among the actions executed by Vibra, there is the entry into new markets of lower emission. We can mention the investments in electricity (acquisition of Targus, now renamed Vibra Comercializadora de Energia), in the trading of ethanol through a strategic partnership with Copersucar, the production of biomethane from a Cooperation Agreement with ZEG Biogás and, more recently, the joint venture with Comerc, to offer the market end-to-end solutions throughout the value chain, in an integrated energy platform.

 

TW – How can Engineering become a predominant theme in discussions on the energy transition? What are the contributions of the sector today and how can it increase this participation?

WFJ – Engineering has a leading role in the development and implementation of the technological solutions necessary for the energy transition to cleaner and more efficient matrices. The development of humanity owes much to the evolution of Engineering, and it will not be different with the issues focused on sustainability. There is a universe of opportunities for solutions for the production, storage and distribution of clean energy, for example. Many of them are at the beginning of the development curve, such as batteries for electric vehicles, in addition to having a lack of infrastructure to supply these vehicles.The carbon credit market, included in the ESG agenda, is enhanced by new infrastructures for the production and distribution of clean energy – wind power, solar power and biomethane, among
others – and by the search for higher energy efficiency systems in final consumers. Engineering must develop solutions to these challenges, with the intensive use of digital technologies, investments in research and development and, above all, investments in the training of technicians and engineers from several areas.

 

TW – Do companies and the energy sector as a whole have a convenient digital maturity – intensive use of technology -? What still can and should be done?

WFJ – The development of technology is fundamental to the transformation of the energy market in search of cleaner sources. Vibra Energia recently took an important step in its journey of innovation and digital transformation with the creation of Vibra co.lab, which is our Innovation Hub, that will allow the creation of connections with startups and scale-ups on topics such as mobility, convenience, new energy sources and other emerging technologies, building alternatives
to the great challenges of the market. In the case of Vibra, we already had a strong pillar of digital transformation even before the pandemic and we are betting a lot on technology.

In the last 2 years, the company has invested more than R$ 250 million in Information Technology and digital transformation. The innovation journey will be increasingly important for companies to follow this path towards the energy transition and a low-carbon economy. And that journey is in all of our areas, including convenience, for example.

 

TW – Speaking of the convenience store, the gas station has gone from being a supply station to being a service station. What has Vibra done to assist this consumer that looks for more than a gas station, but a service station?

WFJ – At first, the gas station was a place for automotive supply and services. With the requirements of modern society, these places are turning into centers with a wide variety of products and services. Vibra seeks to develop a comprehensive response by adjusting the mix of products and services it offers, adapting its network and business model of its stations and convenience stores to take advantage of local opportunities. In the Convenience area, connectivity will be a differential. We are investing in digital tools to expand not only the means of payment but also to
soon offer withdrawal points for online purchases made by the app. Mobile apps can help increase the number of transactions by encouraging customers to visit specific stations on their most frequent route and establish an interface for reward programs, for example. Our plan to grow from 1200 to 2200 convenience stores by 2025 is also a highlight.
This action is already underway with the recent partnership signed with Lojas Americanas, through local networks and BR Mania. They will form a joint venture and divide society by 50%. This partnership is a practical demonstration of how much Vibra understands that the stations are evolving to serve the customer in other ways and that are offering more services.

TW – How is the digital transformation process reflected in the stations? What initiatives are underway about it at Vibra?

WFJ – Digital transformation arrives at gas stations linking the concepts of convenience and mobility, prioritizing the customers and their journey. Technologies such as mobile payment, OBD, plate recognition, consumer customization
and performance dashboards emerge as strategic in this approach.

 

TW – How will Technology impose the direction of the convenience segment?

WFJ – With the progress of online shopping and the success of e-commerce and marketplaces, the customers do not only want the delivery of their order to arrive in good condition. They seek the differential also in the quality of tracking their purchases. Vibra invests to serve the customers the way they want. In addition, using big data and analytics in
all assessments will help increase revenue per Vibra has projects in all these main areas, and also in startups of advanced technology. The creation of Vibra co.lab will also enhance and accelerate the digital transformation of Brazilian automotive fuel retail.

TW – How will Technology impose the direction of the convenience segment?

WFJ – With the progress of online shopping and the success of e-commerce and marketplaces, the customers do not only want the delivery of their order to arrive in good condition. They seek the differential also in the quality of tracking their purchases. Vibra invests to serve the customers the way they want. In addition, using big data and analytics in all assessments will help increase revenue per customer. Targeted discounts, such as cross-selling convenience store offers and car washes for consumers who use the stations, can increase the flow within stations and convenience.

 

TW – What benefits do retailers and customers have with these innovations?

WFJ – When applied in an objective and customer-centric way, digital transformation represents a win-win situation for all parties involved. Final customers receive a customized journey adapted to their needs, in addition to more targeted discounts and a greater value offer. Retailers earn from the increase in sales, satisfaction and the consequent greater loyalty of their customers. With that, Vibra continues to be the national brand of preference for both their customers and retailers.

TW – What benefits do retailers and customers have with these innovations?

WFJ – When applied in an objective and customer-centric way, digital transformation represents a win-win situation for all parties involved. Final customers receive a customized journey adapted to their needs, in addition to more targeted discounts and a greater value offer. Retailers earn from the increase in sales, satisfaction and the consequent greater loyalty of their customers. With that, Vibra continues to be the national brand of preference for both their customers and retailers.

 

TW – How are technological tools revolutionizing payment methods, customer relationships and management processes?

WFJ – Digital payment methods have already been a reality in the Brazilian market for at least two decades with the creation of digital wallets and the growth of the sector. However, from 2020 on, they have gained greater amplitude and stabilization due to the pandemic caused by COVID-19. In this context, contactless and digital experiences were naturally being incorporated into the routine of the entire population, allowing companies to expand their management tools, respecting the principles of the LGPD. In this way, new opportunities arise naturally for customers who come to rely on a more directed experience, optimization of their time and resources, greater trust in brands and a growing range of personalized offers.

TW – Finally, what is the future, in the medium and long term, of the energy transition in Brazil?

WFJ – In the medium and long term, for example, we will have the opening of the natural gas market, which is the transition fuel. The free energy market will also grow larger and embrace more consumers. To respond to the increase of demand, Brazil will also see a complementarity of supply through renewable sources, especially biofuels, solar and wind energy and will begin to have more effective energy security. And much cleaner. We will be an example to the world.

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