Home » First PersonSpring 2008

International Finance with a Brazilian Beat

No Comment


Alexander “Sandy” Severino, BA’83
Managing Director, Latin American Credit Markets, Citi

Sheri Ptashek Severino

Isabel and Caroline


Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro, a great hotel
in one of the most beautiful cities in the world

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, BA’25

Apocalypse Now

It’s 8:30 on an October morning on the trading floor in New York City. Fifteen people share a conference call to decide whether to announce a $1 billion bond deal for Brazil’s largest oil and gas company, Petrobras. The markets have been turbulent since July, but as I look at my computer screens, I see Asian and European stocks are “flashing green” (meaning stocks are up) and U.S. Treasuries are stable. I advise my Brazilian client to go forward with the launch…and fast. Three hours later, we have almost $3 billion in orders from investors—a major success! It’s exhilarating…I never imagined in college that I would work on Wall Street—in New York City—for almost 20 years!

With a major in history and a minor in English from Vanderbilt, I did not necessarily have the background one would expect for a career in finance. I was born in Brazil and lived there until the age of five, when my father got an offer to teach at the University of Texas and later at Vanderbilt. I grew up most of my life in Nashville. As my father was a professor of Portuguese and comparative literature at the university, it was a foregone conclusion that I would go to Vanderbilt (although there weren’t many Vandy-bound students from my public high school, Hillwood, at that time). 

I had always enjoyed history, and the quality of the professors in the department made it an easy choice for a major. The overall liberal arts discipline allowed me to take a variety of courses and explore options. During my four years at Vanderbilt, I studied history, English, philosophy, languages and economics. I learned from enthusiastic professors and developed the ability to reason and analyze. One of the best things I did at Vanderbilt to prepare for a financial career was to take several accounting and economics classes. I developed an interest in the building blocks of finance and gained confidence that I could succeed in a quantitative environment. 

Upon graduation, I took at job in undergraduate admissions at Vanderbilt, which was one of the best times of my life. I traveled the country extolling the virtues of a liberal arts education, meeting new people and making hundreds of presentations. I became skilled at speaking to large audiences, thinking quickly, and dealing with a variety of people. I then got an MBA at Duke University, and in 1988, received an offer to work with Citibank in New York, a dream job for someone who had always wanted to work in an international environment.

Although my three siblings and I grew up in Nashville as a fairly American family, having a Brazilian mother and Portuguese father always made me feel different. Our summer vacations were often spent visiting family in Brazil, Portugal or Germany, or hosting assorted relatives and friends from these far-off places. What I did not appreciate at the time was the benefit of speaking another language. By the time I got to college, I’d forgotten most of my Portuguese. At Vanderbilt, I took Portuguese classes to improve my language skills, which have come in very handy during the last 12 years working with Brazil and other Latin American countries.

During my first few years with the bank, Citibank afforded me the opportunity to live and work in the great financial cities in the world—New York, London and Hong Kong. After my father passed away, however, I wanted to be closer to home. In 1994, I returned from Hong Kong to work on the Brazil capital markets desk in New York. This experience opened a whole new world to me. 

“It is very rewarding seeing the CEO and chief financial officer of a company raise money overseas so their company can grow and create jobs in Brazil.”

Three years later, I was hired by Lehman Brothers to help run their Brazil bond efforts in New York before moving to Deutsche Bank for a similar role in 1999. I returned to Citi in 2003.

Traveling overnight to Brazil about 20–25 times a year is thrilling and exhausting, but it rarely gets old. The flight attendants on American Airlines certainly know me by name. 

I visit clients such as the Brazilian National Treasury in Brasilia, and large and small companies and banks throughout Brazil. My job is to help my clients raise funding in the international debt markets, some of them for the first time. It is very rewarding seeing the CEO and chief financial officer of a company raise money overseas so their company can grow and create jobs in Brazil. I have visited my clients’ steel plants, breweries and petrochemical facilities; seen their vast green oceans of sugar cane and soybean fields; and surveyed their eucalyptus tree plantations in neatly formed rows extending for miles. 

I have accompanied my clients to Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. to tell their stories to once-skeptical investors who now flock to invest in Brazilian companies. I can be in Geneva for a breakfast meeting, London for a lunch, and back in Manhattan with my wife Sheri and two daughters, Isabel and Caroline, by the end of the day. I speak English to investors, then turn around and clarify a point in Portuguese to my Brazilian clients, putting them at ease that their story is being told correctly. 

As an undergraduate at Vanderbilt, I didn’t know what my future held, but already the seeds had been sown for an international business career. My liberal arts curriculum taught me to research, to write clearly, to question and to problem solve—all skills I utilize every day on Wall Street. Outside the classroom, I was exposed to vibrant, intelligent students, each with an equal desire to succeed personally and professionally. The overall Vanderbilt experience prepared me, ultimately, to set off on a journey to fulfill a life-long ambition of helping Brazil, long known as “the country of the future.”

Comments are closed.