“I have never been creative in the sense of drawing or painting, but I’ve always been the one to ask, ‘Why should we do things this way? Why can’t we do it in another way?’ My entire life, I have been like this – not accepting the way things were.”
At the peak of a glamorous career at TAM Airlines, one of the biggest airlines in Brazil and her family’s own business, Manoela Amaro found herself asking, “is that it?” This was the question that pestered her throughout her Berlin School Executive MBA modules and would eventually prompt a bold career shift into Brazilian fashion.
Manoela Amaro started her career in the traditional agency world of advertising, starting out with players such as Markup Incentive Marketing and Salles BBDO, before eventually joining the in-house ranks at TAM Airlines in 2001. At first, the move away from the agency setting – and into her family’s legacy company – was a shock to the system, but she soon discovered the advantages of being a creative catalyst in a corporate environment.
“It was very serious compared to the environment of agencies. But I got to know the relationship with agencies from the other side, which was very complimentary for me. It’s very hard to find an agency that really understands the reality of the client. I realised, being client-side at TAM, that this was the thing that I hadn’t liked about the agency world, and that for the agencies to do better work for their clients, they needed to be much more involved. The more engaged they are with the reality of the client, the better solutions they can provide.”
Discovering and proving yourself, especially in a family business with a huge global presence, is no overnight task, but it was one that Manoela grafted with determination and entrepreneurial spirit. Having experienced both sides of the coin, she used each new campaign to challenge and reshape the nature of TAM’s client-agency relationships, spearheading everything from worldwide customer loyalty programs to in-flight experience and catering. The impact of Manoela’s work was exponential, and she steadily progressed to become CMO of TAM Airlines, where she would remain until 2012.
Is That It?
Leading so many campaigns, departments, and teams, Manoela’s success was testament to both her talent and personal sacrifice. It also came with the realisation that the airline industry is the beast that never sleeps. “It’s a very rich environment to work in, but it’s also very expensive in terms of your personal life.” Manoela recalls speaking to Berlin School President Michael Conrad at Cannes and discussing her thoughts on joining the school. Climbing the ranks at TAM, Manoela admitted that as a petite, female leader, proving her leadership authority was not without its challenges and that she longed to use her entrepreneurial prowess to do something new; something she was truly passionate about and that put her own stamp on the world. “By the time I reached the Berlin School, the biggest challenge I was facing at TAM was to manage this huge budget. It was very big and very glamorous, but I found myself asking ‘is that it?’”
Manoela’s Berlin School experience was not lost on TAM Airlines. For her MBA Thesis, Manoela focused on fundamentally reshaping TAM’s in-flight entertainment model, introducing on-board Wifi so that passengers could stay connected and get the entertainment they chose – a first for Brazil’s largest airline. But her time at the school would continue to unlock Manoela’s entrepreneurial hunger and lead to more far-reaching ambitions.
No-one ever said that change is comfortable. For Manoela, every lesson at the Berlin School and each conversation with her classmates was a double-edged experience. On one hand, she discovered a whole new level of focus, discipline, and leadership potential. “The school was a remarkable experience for me – it changed my life completely. I got in touch with so many people with very different brains.”
At the same time, like many participants, she also began to ask some big questions about the next steps in her life. “I began to feel very uncomfortable about my job and my situation, and I didn’t know why. My Berlin School experience made me confident and much more prepared, but I didn’t know yet what for.”
As it happened, this hunger for change came at just the right time. Upon leaving TAM Airlines, Manoela took a break from big business to focus on her two (soon-to-be-three) children and to allow the next chapter in her life to simmer. Looking for a new challenge to sink her teeth into, she decided to study fashion. This new path would become more than an outlet for Manoela’s creative ambitions, but the beginning of an over-arching mission to bolster the Brazilian fashion industry on a global scale.
As Manoela confesses, she has spent a lifetime often asking the questions that nobody wants to hear. One day, while sifting through a fashion magazine, one of these pesky questions bubbled to the surface. "Despite being a home to fashion brands with enormous potential, why is Brazil unable to establish itself internationally?" Her entrepreneurial senses twitching, Manoela realised that she was looking at an industry rife with incredible commercial and creative potential, but which was lacking the global identity it deserved, apart from some rare exceptions. To set about solving the problem, Manoela established Blanc Fashion, a digital showroom connecting Brazilian designers with retailers around the world.
Brazilian Fashion! Why Not Go Global?
Manoela describes the challenges facing Brazilian fashion as threefold. “First of all, the fashion industry, is chaotic. It’s full of creative characters, who are not necessarily business-minded. This is true anywhere you look in the world, but when you look at the other complex factors facing Brazil, it’s particularly challenging.”
The second challenge is a battle against dated stereotypes. “When people think of Brazilian fashion, they go right back to the eighties. They think, ‘the Brazilian bikini is very small!’ This is not the case.” With Blanc’s handpicked designers, Manoela is determined to showcase an industry rich in history and creativity; one that is distinctive and technologically-minded when it comes to ideas, fabric, and construction.
Finally, she notes the lack of incentive for Brazilian entrepreneurs compared to other economies. “In Brazil, it’s extremely expensive to start a business. And it’s not like other fashion industries which are backed by government associations. Without these resources, it makes it very hard to trade with Brazil.” The domino effect means an overall lack of international presence.
Working with over 35 brands, Blanc’s mission is to bring the breadth, width, and dynamism of Brazilian fashion to the rest of the world, but also to raise it to an international standard. “This is the reason I started Blanc. I thought that I could help by starting an export business, this would improve the whole chain.” By creating an international dialogue, Manoela hopes that Brazilian designers will not only increase production and reputation, but will become more competitive in terms of pricing, quality, and commercial infrastructure.
More Than the Sum of its Parts
Manoela is now based in London with her husband and three children. Apart from occasional trips to Paris Fashion Week or to meet clients, she operates the entire company remotely, leading a team of twelve who are mostly based in Brazil. “The school trained me for this. I keep having déjà vu about doing group work and connecting with my classmates through Skype. Now, the way I run Blanc is just the same.”
Manoela describes her daily life as a “bombastic combination” of family life, distant time zones, and an occasional battle with a lost Skype connection. “It can be chaotic, but for me this is a temporary period where my children will be totally dependent on me.” In the meantime, she is building her dream business. It is clear from her passion that Manoela is living a more fulfilled life than ever before, enjoying the odd moments of chaos, and uncovering her long-term leadership purpose.
It’s obvious that Manoela’s vision for Blanc goes far beyond trends and famous names. “There is still a lot of vanity and competitiveness in fashion. Designers are very brave, running their businesses on their own, but they could be so much stronger together. If you’re only interested in your own reputation, nothing will grow.”
Seeing the strength of international fashion markets, Manoela’s real goal is to strengthen the entire Brazilian fashion industry. “Through Blanc, brands are seeing the value of being part of a network. I want to unite designers and to empower ambassadors who could really grow the sector. This is something that has to happen, and if I can do something to build that, I will.”