Ahead of the Pack

Nov 7, 2003

Under the command of Roberto Setúbal, Brazil's Banco Itaú has moved into a league of its own. Itaú is the most profitable and most valuable bank in Latin America.

Running a bank in Latin America is a bit like being behind the wheel of a stock car. The field is crowded and accidents always happen, with unpredictable results. Some cars are rust buckets held together with chewing gum and wire. Others are high-performance machines. A perfectly good driver can be bounced out of the race while another who is merely luckier makes it to the finishing line. But only drivers with hair-trigger reactions, able to calculate risk at high speed can win consistently.

The skills required of a great banker are similar, although the risks are not quite as great. Few bankers actually stake their lives on quarterly results or the success of a big deal in the way drivers risk all to win a race. However, the rewards are usually far greater in banking than in auto racing.

In his 10 years as president of Banco Itaú, Roberto...

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