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Latin America was afflicted 15 years ago by a miasma of mismanagement that left its economies and companies hopelessly at sea. Today economic and business conditions in the region surpass those in the U.S. and Europe, thanks to new, hard-won discipline among Latin political and corporate leaders.

The result is a level of ambition and confidence heretofore unseen within the upper reaches of the region’s management ranks, one that has them taking rapid advantage of strong domestic demand fueled by a growing middle class as well as opportunities arising far beyond national and continental boundaries. Those aspirations have spawned a new generation of regional and global leaders, as reflected in ­Institutional Investor’s second annual Latin American Executive Team.

Consider Vale, the Brazilian iron-ore and nickel producer, which has become the world’s second-­biggest miner, after BHP Billiton, the Anglo-­Australian giant. Consider Petrobras, Brazil’s oil major, which is expected to surpass Exxon Mobil as the world’s biggest oil company in market capitalization by 2020. Or Cía. de Bebidas das Américas, known as AmBev, the Brazilian brewer whose management helped to create Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Belgian-Brazilian behemoth that today supplies Budweiser to the bars of New York as well as Stella Artois to the brasseries of ­Brussels. Or Itaú Unibanco, Brazil’s biggest retail bank, which is now larger than Citigroup in market value. The CEOs, CFOs and/or IR Professionals at all four companies score at or near the top of II’s rankings this year, and our profiles of such firms clearly reveal the region’s new swagger.

“The world is becoming multipolar,” says Almir Guilherme Barbassa, chief financial officer of Petrobras, who tops the CFO rankings in the Oil, Gas & Petrochemicals sector. “One of those poles is Brazil and the rest of South America.”

This year as last our rankings highlight the region’s best CEOs, CFOs and IR Professionals, as well as the companies with the most-­valued investor relations, based on a survey that asked analysts on both the buy and the sell sides to choose the top performers in their domains.

Of course, Latin America’s corporates are by no means free of concerns. Long-term financing is still hard to come by, particularly in Brazil, which inhibits infrastructure development and, with it, companies’ ability to tap growing demand. “This limits growth,” says Marcos Aguiar, Brazil head at the Boston Consulting Group. “Most business people in the country would say that the infrastructural problems create real issues for them,” Aguiar adds, noting that development agencies need to step in to ensure investment takes place in this sector.