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Brazilian Entrepreneur Vanessa de Figueiredo Vilela Araújo: Among top ten entrepreneurs to receive UNCTAD Women in Business Award 2010                 Source: http://www.administradores.com.br

In 2010, Brazilians elected their first female president, Dilma Vana Rousseff. That a woman should rise to the top government seat is not surprising. Women were the sole providers of 72.7 percent of households (IBGE Population Census 2010). Women also play an important role in the economy where, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2010, they ran 53 percent of Brazilian business enterprises during the study period (www.gemconsortium.org).

While Melon Exporters S.A. faced bankruptcy in 1994, Ceará Importers Ltda. (fictitious name), started in November 1992 by two entrepreneurial women, was on the rise. Their father, an import-export consultant who had worked on a contractual basis for Melon Exporters, invited me to join their professional team.

Ceará Importers occupied a building with a small depot and office space. In an upscale area of Fortaleza, capital of Ceará, they also operated two retail stores for their imported consumer goods. On visiting the stores, I was impressed with the design, quality, and variety of the household, gift, and other items on sale.

The empresárias brasileiras, sisters in their thirties and married with children, complemented each other with their contrasting personalities. I judged Marisa, a brunette with brown eyes who spoke softly with an easy smile, to be well-grounded. Luciana, blond with green eyes, electrified the room with her exuberance and dynamism, scattering the gloom that had settled around me at Melon Exporters.

I began working in the afternoons at Ceará Importers, while I continued working in the mornings at Melon Exporters. After three months, with growing volumes in shipments, I joined them full-time on their expansion from having a small representative office in Miami, USA, to new alliances in Europe.

The empresárias took turns visiting manufacturers and suppliers in the USA and Europe, in the company of their respective representatives, to select and place orders for goods to be packed and shipped by representatives. They kept an eye out for new products and trends, and innovations in American and European high-end retail stores.

During the next five years, their business moved to a new location near the port – providing three large warehouses, a Show Room for wholesale clients, and administrative building. They opened four more retail stores, working closely with contractors and store managers on layout and product displays. Their stores and product lines attracted the attention of other female entrepreneurs in Ceará and neighboring states, resulting in further expansion through franchise operations. Their energy, enthusiasm, and attention to detail were infectious.

Their individual success stories appeared in the society column of a major local newspaper. In recognition of their contribution to the economy of Fortaleza, the business community awarded them, for three consecutive years, the Destaque Empresarial do Ano for outstanding entrepreneurship in the retail sector.

Continually expanding their operations to include the importation of new products lines, they pushed me beyond my comfort zone, increasing my proficiency in the importation of a wide range of consumer products. Their success in entrepreneurship made possible my own achievements as their import manager.