The 25-year-old President of Paraná Railroad
The career path that led João Bresolin Vicente de Araújo to the presidency of the West Paraná Railway S.A. (Ferroeste) is rather uncommon. Less than four years after graduating university, he has found himself commanding a team of 150 people. However, at just 25 years old, the former intern has been able to cancel the monthly deficit of R$600,000 at Ferroeste, one of the most important state railways in the country.
During his six months on the job, the young man has overcome some serious hurdles, such as reservations about his age and the accumulated losses of the company. However, with administrative and operational changes, Araújo foresees profits on the horizon for 2013. “It is my duty to try to fix this railroad.”
Founded in 1988 and in operation by 1996, Ferroeste is the primary link between Paraná’s western agricultural production center and the Port of Paranaguá. Agricultural production in the western half of the state depends on the transport of the company’s rail network. In 2012, 720,000 tons of product traveled on Ferroeste’s rail system.
Acceptance was one of the first battles Araujo had to fight in his early days of management. “Getting this position was a huge surprise. I couldn’t possibly imagine something like this was possible,” said the young executive about the time when he was invited to the office of the Secretary of Infrastructure and Logistics, José Richa Filho. “People were afraid that they were getting the spoiled son of a politician for the job, but that wasn’t my profile, and soon they changed their opinion,” said the president.
The banter about his age was inevitable, but he always made sure to take everything in stride. “I remember a woman saying that there was a van from the Guardianship Council parked outside to take me away in case I did something wrong, or that they would call my mother. But it’s normal, the company is 25 years old and I am 25 years old,” he mused.
According to Araújo, the jokes stopped when he began to put into practice what he had learned in the private sector. “I tried my best to adapt, but it’s very different. Everything is much more bureaucratic, slower” he says. Still, the results of the new measures are already being seen in these first few months of the year.
João Bresolin Vicente de Araújo was born in Curitiba, but lived in western Paraná from age 4 to 17, when he returned to the capital to enroll in higher education. He graduated with a degree in Business Administration in 2008 from FAE and Forestry from UFPR in 2010, after a getting a technical degree in France.
His early career was spent at America Latina Logistica (ALL), which operates the railroads in various regions of Brazil. “It was a huge challenge working at ALL. I worked about 12 hours per day. I spent a year in the Operations Control Center (OCC) handling the Paraná and Santa Catarina grain loading. Then I was invited to join ALL’s program engineers,” recalls Araújo. After four months of classes and field work to get familiarized with operations, Araújo returned to the OCC, extending his previous activities to Rio Grande do Sul.
It was at this point he was invited to take over the railway that his grandfather, Hylo Bresolin, had helped create. “My grandfather was one of 40 entrepreneurs who went to Brasília to ask Sarney to create Ferroeste,” said Araújo, who believes his family name recognition gives him a special responsibility to the citizens of Paraná. “I feel a responsibility to make this business work. This railroad is one of the best things that could have happened to Paraná,” he said.
The previous financial losses at Ferroeste were inherited by Araújo from pending litigation and administrative liabilities. Privatized in December 1996, but with the consortium operator failing to make investments or meet payment deadlines, the State filed a suit to re-appropriate the railway’s operations.
The company returned to state control in December 2006, but the situation was still bad. “When the government resumed control, there were 15 operating locomotives. Between 2007 and 2011, 12 of them stopped running, and no investments were made,” says the president.
In the same period, the transit time between Cascavel and Guarapuava jumped from 8 1/2 hours to 11 1/2 hours. “Today we’ve reduced the time to 9 1/2 hours, and in 2014, we intend to again reach the 8 1/2-hour trip,” estimates Araújo. The shorter transit is one of the main factors responsible for the recent increase in productivity of the company. “Results of the first half of 2013 are the best since 2010, when we had more engines in operation than today,” he says.
Other administrative measures that have been taken under the new management are the return of leased locomotives that were idle, switching the telephone carrier, and the replacement of outsourced employees for competitive entrants. “We had 120 employees, but today we have 150 and are spending R$30,000 less every month,” he explained.
For operations, Araujo has brought on a production engineer and his colleague from ALL, Rodrigo César de Oliveira, also 25 years old, to be the new Director of Production at Ferroeste. “No one really understood operations at Ferroeste, so Rodrigo and I focused a lot on the day-to-day to increase railway maneuver speed. Also we focused on driver conduct. It’s very hard to drive a train, and we standardized the procedure,” he explained.
For the period between grain harvests, Ferroeste’s young president is investing in new machinery and agreements with ALL to maintain optimum operations. The goal is to carry lower quality crops during the period between harvests to the mills in Ponta Grossa in the Campos Gerais region to balance revenues. The agreement with ALL should result in savings in the export of the crops at the Port of Paranaguá.
“We were taking grains from Cascavel to freight them to Guarapuava. ALL leaves Ponta Grossa with rail cars, leaves them in Guarapuava, and picks up ours stationed there and takes them back to Ponta Grossa before heading on to Paranaguá.” After the changes were implemented, Ferroeste didn’t need to stop in Guarapuava and the transit time for the harvest was reduced. “Without idle periods, the line runs back and forth faster and revenues increase,” the new president summarized.
[This article was written by Fernando Castro in Portuguese and has been translated and edited by CIE.]