“My mother is incredible,” laughs Carla Bento. “When I was a child growing up in 1970s Brazil, the world of work was very much a man’s world. But my mother ran a clothing factory and it was very unusual for a woman to be a manager. She was good at it, the company prospered and she won the respect of the ‘male establishment’. I was so proud of my mother – just as she is proud of me now. So much of what I’ve achieved has been based on the inspiration she gave me.”
Carla is new in her current role as Treasury and Capital Markets manager for VFS Brazil. But she is far from new in the company. In her 21 years at VFS she has held many roles, and is still hungry to try new things. Based at the giant 4,000 employee Volvo Group facility in Curitiba, Brazil, the half Italian/half German Carla is just as passionate about working for VFS today as the day she arrived.
‘Like a marriage’
“Working for a company for so long has become like a marriage,” she says. “You get to know all the good points and not-so-good points about being there. But if I ask myself ‘Would I ‘marry’ VFS again knowing what I know now? Then the answer is a big Yes! VFS respects me, stretches me and encourages me to express myself – its values are very close to my own.”
While the other girls stayed at home and did things teens do, Carla’s mother could see the power of communicating, and so sent her 14 year old daughter to a night school to learn English. Carla was a natural, and after studying for a degree in English and time living and learning in her beloved San Diego in the US, she was so proficient that she ran a branch of an English school in Brazil for five years when she got back.
“This was very useful when I joined VFS,” remembers Carla. “At that time the company was very young in Brazil, and the Management Team spoke only English, while most of the employees spoke only Portuguese. My language skills helped me act as a bridge, and before long I was involved in so many projects, and experienced so many opportunities. I have passed on the advice to speak other languages to my 14 year old son Nicolas – he is already fluent in English and I’m encouraging him to now learn Mandarin.”
Team discussions – in more ways than one
Speaking the same language as your colleagues is only one element of good communication. When Carla first became a manager she would often find herself in Monday morning meetings filled with only men – and they were all talking about soccer – of which she knew nothing.
“To join in the conversation I would watch a TV show at 11pm every Sunday evening that summarized all the games from that weekend,” says Carla. “So on Monday mornings I knew enough to be included in the fun – and I even grew to love the game! I still watch that TV show now!”
It’s not just soccer that Carla has learned to love, but her new role too. “That’s one of the things I love about VFS,” she says. “That even after 21 years they can surprise me. They don’t believe my career has stalled, and are encouraging me to take on a new challenge and learn new things. I love that – and I will go the extra mile to make it a success.”
Women of influence
This ‘dare to try’ attitude is one of the things that Carla promotes in her new team, which includes 40% women. “I help them to be courageous in their careers,” she says. “The world is changing fast and I’m proud to see so many leaders at all levels of VFS.”
Just like her mother, Carla is an inspiration to a new generation of women. What advice does she give to the female colleagues she mentors? “I tell them to trust and believe in themselves – and to be brave,” she says. “If you believe in yourself, your colleagues – male and female – will respond with respect and good things will happen. Even if you don’t know all the answers, go for it and tell yourself you’ll sort it out.
“That’s my mother talking – she went through it during a much tougher time. I’m just passing on a mother’s good advice.
“I’m proud to be a woman of VFS.”