Saulo Spaolanse steps outside Brazilian comfort zone to lead Schneider Electric in Romania

For Brazilian Saulo Spaolanse, coming to Romania to lead Schneider Electric’s local subsidiary was a challenge, another step outside his comfort zone. It may not seem this way, at a first glance. He came from Brazil, a market ten times bigger  than Romania’s. Moreover, Sao Paolo has 21 million inhabitants, almost the entire Romanian population. This makes Romanian capital Bucharest alone seem like a walk in the park.

By Corina Saceanu

Saulo used to run the residential products division for Schneider in Brazil, while here in Romania, he runs the entire subsidiary and his task is to increase the market share in a region which is not booming anymore.

“From 2004 to 2008, Eastern Europe was booming, and South America was so and so. Now it is different. Eastern Europe started to suffer in 2009, while South America is booming. In terms of management challenges, I have different challenges than I had in Brasil. But the main challenge is the same – increase the market share, invest in local competences, develop the team,” Saulo Spaolanse says in a interview to Romania-Insider.com.

Already proficient in Romanian, after only five months of staying in Romania, Saulo had expected a more difficult adaptation to the new country. But him and his family adapted fast. His children, the 5-year old Camilla and the 4-year old Philip are already going to school here, while his wife has also adapted well to the city. Saulo’s biggest challenge in terms of business was to understand the new market, the Romanian consumer and the business environment here.

“People complain to me about the traffic, but for me this is no problem, compared to Sao Paolo. The biggest challenge was to understand the business environment, the Romanian customers,  the executives, who are different,” he says.

Before being approached with the proposal for this new position, he knew quite a bit about Romania, given his passion for geography. When he learned the proposal was to lead one of the Schneider subsidiaries in Eastern Europe, he hoped that would be Romania, that Latin country amid all the other Eastern European countries.

His first contact with Romania was after a holiday in Switzerland, towards the end of last year. He tells the amuzing story, gesturing to illustrate. He seems so Romanian.

“We had 8 huge pieces of luggage – imagine, Brazilians in a cold country. We went by bus and metro to the airport in Switzerland. People were very polite there, but nobody helped me. I was with my wife, two little kids and 8 pieces of luggage around us, but nobody helped me. When I arrived in the airport in Romania, some passengers helped me to go to the taxi, and it was not for money. Later on I found out that they can also help you in exchange for money, but that was not the case then” Saulo Spaolanse remembers.

Once he arrived in Romania, he realized what a potential the country has for the company. “Here in Romania there is a lot of need for equipments for infrastructure. If a country needs to improve their infrastructure, this is our market,” he says.

Apart from his business targets here in Romania, Saulo has made a target out of leading by example. “If I expect some behavior for my team, I have to be the first to act, to walk the talk. I tried to talk to everybody in the organization, I know the first name of most of the people,”he says.

Saulo started his career at 15, as an office boy in South Brasil. He came from a low to medium income family and had to work during the day to be able to go to school during the evening. “I know how important it was for me, as I remember when some senior manager came to me and called me by my name. I am doing the same here, respecting people first,” Saulo says.

He has worked for two years as an office boy, and then was promoted to assistant in the human resources department. Saulo, now 36, has studied to become an economist.

“I try to listen, I don’t pretend to be an expert in everything. I am an economist, not an engineer, I am not able to calculate a tension, and for me to try to learn that would be a lack of focus. I have very good people to do that. I act much more as a conductor of a train, trying to put the right people in the right place, help them develop, give clear feedback, even when feedback is negative,” says Saulo.

He tries to take risks and innovate, challenge his team to take risks, to try.

“I prefer them to try and make mistakes. Romanians are organized, very competent, have excellent language and communication skills, but sometimes they avoid taking risks. They know what to do, but they ask you about your opinion. I need to challenge them to take the decision,” Saulo says.

Saulo tries to balance between his work and his family and friends, and his biggest accomplishment so far is that he managed to get where he is now without loosing his values, he says.

“If I receive tomorrow a job offer for a better position that would affect the balance between my personal and professional life, I would not accept it. I need to have pleasure in what I do, and to be a good father and a good husband,” Saulo goes on.

He doesn’t like to talk about financial achievements, but proudly says that “after 21 years, in 4 companies, I had at least 15 bosses and I am still friends with all of them,” and that “even people that I managed became my friends,” he concludes.

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