In 2016, Sonia Villalobos, CFA, made the decision to share her financial expertise with the next generation of professionals. She became a professor at Insper, a higher education institution with a curriculum focused solely on business, economics, and engineering.
“I want to share all of the experience I’ve accumulated during my journey as a finance professional with students who are beginning their own journeys,” said Villalobos.
Villalobos began earning her degree at São Paulo’s esteemed Fundação Getulio Vargas when Brazil was in a period of stagnation, inflation, and crisis now known as the “lost decade.”
The massive amount of foreign debt accrued during the soaring economies of the 1960s and 1970s was rearing its head, and the International Monetary Fund imposed harsh austerity measures to enable Brazil to meet its payments. The measures served their purpose, but at the cost of stifled growth and increased inflation.
Prospects for financial professionals at that time weren’t just bleak — they were lonely. Underdeveloped markets meant an underdeveloped profession, limited female representation, and zero CFA® charterholders in South America. To Villalobos, it meant she was on her own.**International Monetary Fund: World Economic Outlook, 2017
“It was a real challenge starting out. There was so much we didn’t know,” said Villalobos. “Early on, a US client asked questions about EBITDA. I had no idea what it meant!”
Not only did Villalobos meet the financial challenges Brazil faced head on, she readily conquered them. Over the course of a few years, she quickly rose to lead Latin America’s largest sell-side equity team at the time in 1989.
But in 1994, everything changed.
In 1994, Brazil’s government introduced the Real Plan, which transformed the country’s currency and economy. Villalobos saw stable markets and the promise of financial industry growth for the first time in her career.
It was also in 1994 that she completed Level III of the CFA® Program, becoming not just the first female CFA charterholder in South America but the first charterholder on the continent.
The CFA Program was a way for Villalobos not only to understand her foreign peers, but to earn their respect.
Sonia Villalobos, CFA
Throughout her career, Villalobos witnessed the transformation of a national economy, opened her own consultancy firm, Villalobos Consultoria Ltda., and sat on the board of Telefônica Brasil, historically one of Brazil’s ten-largest listed companies.
But it’s her next chapter, cultivating the generation of talent that will continue in her footsteps, that excites her most.
“If I broke new ground for finance professionals in Brazil, it was all for this — to see the next generation forge their own paths and take the investment profession to greater heights.”
More than 450 universities work with CFA Institute to promote an investment education grounded in ethics.
Each year, more than 5,000 university students compete around the globe in the CFA Institute Research Challenge.
CFA Institute updates the program curriculum every year, based on input from thousands of global practitioners, to ensure candidates have the skills critical for today’s investment industry.
Brazil has come a long way since the crisis of the 1980s, but there is still much work to be done. Recovery from the 2008 global recession has not been without its challenges, including corruption scandals and rising economic inequality, which have recently received international attention. In addition, economists revived the phrase “lost decade” in 2017 to describe Brazil’s challenging years ahead.
At Insper, Villalobos teaches Brazil’s next generation of finance leaders how socially responsible investing and diversity in decision making can make a positive difference in the world — without sacrificing professional success.
“Ethical decision making and success in the finance industry go hand-in-hand,” said Villalobos. “Knowing my students are driven to change the world — for the better — through their profession makes me proud to be their teacher.”
Sonia Villalobos believes that change in the financial industry begins in the classroom. In 1988, she sat behind a desk with dreams to transform Brazil’s economy. In 2018, she stands behind a podium encouraging her students to do the same.
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