It was a tale of two pandemics for the top-scoring chief executives on Institutional Investor’s 2021 Latin American Executive Team.

Leaders in investment management and chemical manufacturing scrambled to cope with unprecedented demand for products, ranging from digital financial platforms to recycled plastics for water bottles, food packaging, clothes, automotive components, and construction materials. It was quite a different story for owners of bricks and mortar assets with no option but to close.

“Our greatest challenge this year might surprise you,” said Alpek’s José de Jesús Valdez, the second-highest scoring chief executive in the oil, gas, and petrochemicals category. “Demand for our products has sharply increased, outpacing domestic supply in the Americas.”

Meanwhile the last 12 months have mostly been about survival, not expansion, at Aliansce Sonae, the second-largest shopping mall developer in Brazil. Chief executive Rafael Sales, the top-scoring CEO in the real estate category, said 2020 brought with it his toughest decision yet: to close the company’s malls and offices.

Stepping aside was the toughest business decision Guilherme Benchimol of the Brazilian investment management company XP Inc made in the last year. After 20 years as chief executive, he has become executive chairman, nominating Thiago Maffra as his successor. He knew it was the right thing, he told II, but that didn’t make it easier. “XP has been my life since I founded it in 2001,” he said. “It took me long hours of thoughts and conversations in order to make the final decision.”

But he leaves on a high. After leading XP through its public offering in December 2019, Benchimol was forced to rapidly expand XP’s capacity as the company, which provides low-fee financial products and services, faced an unprecedented increase in trading volumes across its platforms at the start of the pandemic.

As he leaves the chief executive post, Benchimol is in a reflective mood. The most important lesson he learned in his business career? Sharing his dream with people who got it — and stuck with him for the duration. “Much of XP’s success to date was achieved due to the partnership model,” he said. “That empowers employees and makes them real owners and CEOs of the company.” 

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