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Steering the course for Odebrecht: Marcela Drehmer’s steady hand

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LBC spoke with Odebrecht CFO Marcela Drehmer at Latin Trade’s CFO Event in São Paulo.

Marcela Drehmerhas been the CFO of Brazilian giantOdebrecht for a little less than a year, before which she served as CFO of Odebrecht subsidiary Braskem for three years. Despite working as a chief financial officer for a little less than four years, she has won a number of accolades for her dynamic financial management of one of South America’s largest companies. The latest of these came when she was selected as Latin Trade’s CFO of the Year – Brazil at the company’s event in March. She is the first woman to receive this distinction since the award's inception.

As CFO, Drehmer has managed an orderly, disciplined, principled growth process at Odebrecht – a company on which the sun truly never sets.Under her oversight, for instance, Odebrecht structured a massive $20 billion global investment plan for the next three years.   

Before being selected as the company’s CFO, Drehmer had a long career with the company, beginning work there in 2001 after obtaining degrees in Business Administration from UNIFACS- Universidade de Salvador, Bahia and in Finance from IBMEC Business School, São Paulo. She started work with Odebrecht’s vice president for investment in 2001, and moved toBraskem in 2002, where she worked in the structured finance department. There, she rose through the ranks before being selected as treasury director in 2010.

LBC sat down with Drehmer at the event to get her insight into the company’s plans, where she sees it going, and what the evolution of the role of CFO will be.

LBC: Odebrecht has gained a reputation as one of the most successful multinationals from Latin America, with a presence throughout the world. Where do you see as the most exciting markets for the company?

Africa has really been an exciting market for our company, especially the Lusophone countries such as Angola and Mozambique. Of course, we also continue to see great opportunities in our own neighborhood throughout Latin America, where infrastructure development has driven demand for exactly the kind of services Odebrecht provides. The United States has been a good market for us as well, where we’ve been involved in a number of major construction projects. Of course, we will also continue to drive business at home in Brazil.

Were these plans for expansion the main criteria used in devising the company’s $20-billion 5-year investment plan?

In the next five years we will invest in Brazil, in the rest of Latin America – including Peru, Mexico, Colombia and Panama-, and Africa – mainly Angola. Those are regions where we have been established for many years, and our investment decisions take into consideration this experience, along with the expected return, as well as our focus on doing projects that are important for the development of those countries and communities.

Odebrecht does not, in general, grow by acquisitions, but will it consider this strategy in some of its business areas?

It depends on the sector and the opportunities. In petrochemicals, the majority of growth came from acquisitions. Only recently we started a greenfield project, the Etileno XXI in México. In other businesses, we focus on greenfield projects in the following sectors: roads, urban mobility and logistics in Brazil and Latin America; water, sewage and waste management; oil and gas services; ethanol and bioenergy; real estate development; hydro-power and wind-power energy; properties; integrated defense systems and shipbuilding/offshore.

How is it different to reach the top corporate posts if you are a female CFO, as opposed to a male CFO?

I don’t see any difference. What really matters is the work you have done and the results of it.

Do you perceive that  the role of the CFO has changed in the last decade? How so?

We have seen more CFOs becoming CEOs. The CFOs are usually involved in many different areas and decisions, especially acquisitions and investments. Additionally, the contact they have with creditors, including banks and capital markets, and equity investors, private funds or the market, brings the perspective of what is really important when you are investing: the perspective of value creation and financial discipline. That helps in creating a more complete professional. In the other hand, the big challenge for CFOs, is to have the view of an entrepreneur, that is, to identify the opportunities. 

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