Organised by the Brazilian Chamber of Commerce and with invaluable support from the Brazilian embassy, the annual Gala Dinner and Personality of the Year Awards have now taken place for 20 consecutive years, becoming established as the centrepiece in the social calendar of the Brazil-UK business community.
This year’s event took place at the InterContinental London Park Lane on 8 November. More than 250 guests were present, and as usual the large number of businesspeople were joined by several diplomats, politicians and journalists.
The awards originated as a way of recognising the work of individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to expanding the Brazil-UK business relationship. This year’s three recipients certainly fitted that description: Luiz Seabra, Guilherme Leal and Pedro Passos are the co-chairmen of Natura, the highly respected Brazilian cosmetics company that recently acquired one of the UK’s favourite brands, The Body Shop.
The Natura story began in 1969 when Luiz Seabra opened a small cosmetics shop in São Paulo. Guilherme Leal, a business administrator, brought his expertise to the company in 1979, and in 1982 he invited Pedro Passos, an engineer, to become part of the business. Natura became a well-known brand throughout Brazil and began to venture beyond the country’s borders in the early 1990s. A few years later the three co-founders of Natura met the creator of The Body Shop, Anita Roddick, and were inspired by her unique approach to cosmetics. By the 2000s, when Natura’s international expansion gathered pace, social and environmental responsibility had become its guiding principles. The acquisition of The Body Shop in 2017 saw the birth of Natura &Co, which is now present in 72 countries with more than 3,200 stores and more than 18,000 employees.
This year’s Gala Dinner began with a welcoming address from the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Sergio Gullo, in which he introduced the three award recipients and the two guests of honour. He then described Brazil’s increasing role in the “global green economy” and the Chamber’s recent work in helping Brazilian companies access the green bonds market in London. He also listed the other main areas in which the Chamber has been particularly active: agribusiness, infrastructure, insurance and reinsurance, oil and gas, and innovation.
The second speaker before dinner was the newly appointed Ambassador of Brazil to the United Kingdom, H. E. Fred Arruda. He paid tribute to the three awardees for their role in strengthening the economic ties between Brazil and UK, and described Natura’s decision to join forces with The Body Shop as “an example of the vast potential for new partnerships between Brazilian and British companies”. Turning to the subject of the recent elections in Brazil, the ambassador emphasised that more than 100 million Brazilian citizens went to the polls to participate in a free and fair electoral process, and predicted that president-elect Jair Bolsonaro will continue the current pursuit of fiscal balance and structural reforms aimed at boosting growth and job creation.
The dinner itself deserves a mention this year because the menu was specially created for the occasion by the London-based Brazilian chef Luciana Berry, a former competitor in BBC TV’s MasterChef: The Professionals. Each of the three courses had a deliciously Brazilian twist, with classic ingredients such as palm hearts, black beans, cassava and doce de leite all making an appearance.
The guests then enjoyed after-dinner speeches from the two guests of honour: the chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, Martin Wolf, and Brazil’s finance minister, Eduardo Guardia.
Martin Wolf prefaced his speech by congratulating the awardees and mentioning that Natura is one of the companies he has had the opportunity to get to know during his occasional visits to Brazil. He then launched into an entertaining overview of current global economic and political trends – a wide-ranging summary that he somehow managed to fit into 15 minutes. Under the theme of “transformation” he depicted a world experiencing an unprecedented rate of change – for example with the rise of Asia and particularly that of the new “superpower”, China; a sudden shift from an era of unprecedented globalisation to one of rapidly increasing protectionism; and an incipient “democratic recession” in which the spectacular expansion of liberal democracy in the last two decades of the twentieth century is starting to be reversed.
Eduardo Guardia – shortly to be succeeded as finance minister by Paulo Guedes, following the recent elections – praised the “leadership” and “values” of the three co-chairmen of Natura, and said Brazil would benefit enormously if it had more businesspeople in their mould. Turning to the subject of economics, he described Brazil’s emergence from its worst ever recession, predicted that the new government will push ahead with the programme of structural reforms, and expressed the conviction that country is now moving firmly in “the right direction”. However, he made clear his view that there needs to be significant further progress in addressing the fiscal imbalance, improving Brazil’s productivity, and making the country’s economy more open to the rest of the world.
It was then time for the climax of the event: the presentation of the Personality of the Year awards to Luiz Seabra, Guilherme Leal and Pedro Passos, followed by short speeches from each of them. Mr Seabra recalled the “great attention and admiration” with which he and his colleagues followed the rise of The Body Shop from across the Atlantic, and said that the fundamental connection between Natura and its British “sister company” is that both “have always taken the greatest care with questions related to society and the environment”. Mr Passos described Natura and The Body Shop as “two iconic brands” and spoke of the “synergy” between them. Mr Leal expanded upon the theme of Natura’s core values and gave an indication of the impressive range of environmental and social initiatives that the company supports.
The chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Sergio Gullo, drew the evening to a close by thanking the Chamber’s employees for their hard work and the Brazilian embassy for its unwavering support. He also expressed his gratitude to the principal sponsors – Banco Bradesco, British American Tobacco, Itau BBA International plc, Mattos Filho, and PwC – whose generosity helped ensure that the Gala Dinner and Personality of the Year Awards continue to be a success.
Author: Michael Marsden
Photo: Smile Photography