Fast Company

Fast Talk: Metal Mentor

Since 1997, Endeavor Global has been nurturing promising entrepreneurs to build companies that help support emerging markets across Latin America and Africa.

Ivan Calia Barchese, 34

CEO, Mextra
Sao Paolo, Brazil

"I am a pretty simple kind of guy. My great-grandfather was a farmer, and my grandfather sold his vegetables in the marketplace. My dad, who was an engineer, started Mextra in 1978, after he figured out a way to manufacture chromium powder -- something Brazil only imported at the time. I remember stories about the experiments he used to do in our backyard. Our neighbors would get angry because of all the smoke and explosions. The first office for Mextra was made out of wood mostly. When it rained, we had to stop production.

I took over Mextra in 1998, when it was a $500,000 company, but I had been working there part-time since I was 12 years old. Mextra sells high-tech iron and aluminum powders to companies like Alcoa so they can produce all kinds of products: from sheet metal for construction to the cans for soda. We also recycle scrap metal to produce the powders. That was an idea I recognized in 2002. I was visiting factories and noticed all this metal being wasted. It's good for the environment, but it's also good for business.

I remember watching my father deal with a lot of pressure that comes from running a small business. He didn't know much about business, and what he did know he taught himself, through trial and error. It was difficult for him. After he handed the company over to me, he became semi-retired and took up sculpture. I built a studio in the factory for him, so he would be on hand whenever I or the other employees needed advice. But we're very different when it comes to Mextra's future. He doesn't like risk. I had a dream, though. I wanted to be a company that was recognized worldwide.

By the time I was selected as an Endeavor Entrepreneur and was paired with Fausto [Moreira], in 2004, I had grown Mextra to $5 million. I was building a new plant, I expanded into recycling scrap metals, and I wanted to go into aluminum powders. "When Endeavor told me that my mentor was going to be Fausto, I thought, 'Wow. Fausto. Okay.' The guy is a legend in my business. Fausto showed me the path. He changed the way I ran my business. Now I know how to run a good business, how to make my company transparent in case I want to take on new partners. I can tell him my ideas, we talk strategy, and he points out the risks. And the networking! Fausto has a lot of friends. It's a new world. In just three years with Endeavor, we increased sales from $6 million to $35 million and grew to 150 employees."

Fausto Moreira, 59

Former president, Alcoa Brazil
Sao Paolo, Brazil

"Ivan has a very sweet spot in the business. He's in an industry with a lot of potential and not too many competitors. He is kind of small and yet he's able to compete head-on with companies like Alcoa. When I met him, I could tell that he was already feeling the pressure of having too much in his hands at the same time. He needed guidance, a sounding board, someone you can spill your guts to -- like a psychoanalyst but for business. Should I expand, or should I not? Should I invest in this or should I invest in that?

My biggest piece of advice to Ivan was not to grow up too fast. He had a lot of plans. At the time, Mextra was basically doubling up every year in sales and production. And sometimes with this kind of expansion you need some time to become mature, to know what you're doing. Young people are very impatient. Ivan had all the advantages and problems of being young. He was restless, and he wanted to do everything at the same time.

We were a good fit because of my industrial background. His business was much, much smaller than what I was used to, but I could tell right away that Ivan was pretty good. He was buying the right machines, trying to reach the right kinds of clients. He was very similar to the business-unit managers at Alcoa, but his advantage was that he was very young. It's good to see someone his age doing what he was doing, and working very hard. He's someone you feel glad to help."

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