As Import Manager at Ceará Importers,* a successful and expanding young medium-sized company in Fortaleza, I thought that I had finally made it in Brazil. Gone were my days of struggle to raise the rent and my sons’ high school fees. We dressed better, frequented the cinema, and enjoyed holiday week-end outings. I also began looking for an apartment closer to my workplace and my sons’ school.
After relocating to his farm 52 miles away from the capital, a good friend offered to rent me his apartment in Bairro Varjota, an upscale neighborhood in Fortaleza. An evening after work, my sixteen-year-old son and I visited the apartment. Located on the eighth floor of a ten-story apartment building, it had a master bedroom with bathroom, two other bedrooms sharing another bathroom and self-contained quarters for a live-in maid. The view from the living room balcony took my breath away.
My son looked at me wide-eyed. “Mom, you’re dreaming. We can’t afford a place like this,” he told me.
“We can make it happen,” I said.
By cutting non-essential expenses, we were able to cover the doubly higher rent and condo fees. Change demanded individual sacrifices.
Four months and thirteen days after moving into our new apartment, the Brazil Central Bank announced a change in foreign exchange rates. The Brazil real, pegged one-to-one with the American dollar (R$1.00 = US$1.00) during the previous five years under the economic Plano Real (Real Plan), would undergo fluctuations. The measure aimed to defend Brazil’s foreign reserves that had suffered losses totaling over US$44 billion during the financial crises in Asia (1997) and Russia (1998).
The announcement that Wednesday in January 1999 caused havoc at Ceará Importers. The cost of our imports had increased overnight. Our products were no longer competitive with similar nationally produced goods. Sales plummeted with increased prices. The company began closing its retail stores, laying-off the employees. Tensions rose at the head office-warehouse-showroom complex where I worked.
Who would be next?
I floundered as the company lost its ground and battled to find a new direction for survival. I crumbled as colleagues I had come to know and love said their goodbyes.
By mid-year, I worked only half-days. Paying my rent became a challenge. Sleepless nights assailed me. My hunt for a job opening began anew.
As shipments came to a halt, I became irrelevant. My final days came in February 2000. Despite a number of job interviews, I hadn’t yet secured a new job.
When we are on top, we think that it will last forever. I learned that in a globalized economy, there is no job security. We never know when destructive winds will blow our way and sweep our success from under our feet.
* Fictitious Name