Honda South America – Fernanda Platero
While empowering women is as much sound business practice as socially responsible, Fernanda Platero has an interesting take on why it’s even more important in the South American automotive industry.
“Here in Brazil, when a family buys a car, usually it’s the mother who decides which car to buy,” she says. “When you think about this behavior, you must ask yourself: ‘Why don’t we have more women in leadership?’”
Platero hopes she can help lead the way. A member of the Honda South America legal department since 2003, she was promoted last year to its regional director. While she’s also the first and, so far, the only woman on the executive team, Platero is intent on nurturing others for leadership roles. She’s divided her 50-member legal staff along gender lines and won’t stop there.
“Diversity can’t be just about women,” she tells Vanguard in September from São Paulo headquarters. “In Brazil, you don’t see many Blacks in high positions. We need to inspire all kinds of diversity so those who make decisions can bring a variety of ideas and perspectives.”
And whatever the demographic, it’s not just cars they’re buying on this continent. As Platero explains, the cost of a four-wheel vehicle is beyond the means of many South Americans. Add to that how urban traffic is often bumper-to-bumper, making motorcycles the preferred and most practical mode of transportation for many.
How indispensable motorcycles proved during the COVID-19 pandemic, shut-ins depending on carriers for deliveries of food, medicine and other necessities.
Honda is the most popular maker in South America, which positions Platero’s employer for continued market dominance and a bigger role for her and her legal colleagues.
Japanese-owned Honda once exported most of its cars, motorcycles and related parts to South America, but during the 1970s began manufacturing in Brazil, the world’s seventh-largest automotive market. Since then, Honda’s presence has grown in this hemisphere, and the company last year augmenting its motorcycle factory in Manaus with a new one in this historic rubber manufacturing stronghold at the confluence of the Negro and Amazon rivers in northwest Brazil.
Platero and her team were front and central in this R$500 million project, from site selection in 2018 to subsequent concerns such as cost containment, environmental issues and tax implications. What a boon she says it’s been with the workforce expanded to 7,000 direct and 3,000 outsourced employees for annual production of 1.3 million motorcycles.
“My function is to give information of the legislation and rules for the Amazonia region has different rules than Sao Paulo,” she says. “I’ve also had to negotiate agreements with the union and around 300 more agreements with suppliers and other companies involved.”
Then, there’s been her role in implementing and integrating technology in the legal department and making data readily understandable to all departments. Visual law is a great translator, Platero says, as it’s easier for most people to understand figures and drawings than legalese.
She’s using robotics to keep track of litigation as well as new laws. Platero says the process fosters greater transparency and enables her team to prioritize its time. She expects to soon have all sites implemented into a single system that allows for faster exchange of information—part of showing her team’s commitment to partner with all company divisions.
“It’s very important for the lawyers to understand the business as well as the legal side,” she says. “The main difference between a lawyer at a law firm and a company is that at a company, you’re also responsible for its financial health.”
She means business and law
Platero has been contributing to Honda South America’s financial and legal growth for more than 20 years. She’s since earned five promotions and advises other women to advance their careers by doing as she did. That means increasing their knowledge of the business, not being shy about floating ideas and collaborating with all departments.
“For example, I visit the production areas and talk to the workers,” she says. “I want to know about their jobs. We’re all part of a team.”
She commends her employer for adjusting to modern times. Whereas Japanese corporate culture tends to be conservative and thus male-dominated, Platero says the flip side is that anyone’s initiative is valued. According to her, though the top executives are Japanese, they invested much in developing the Brazilian workforce and recognized what she had to offer.
Still, she says, being the first woman to ascend the ranks was challenging, and it can get lonely. But that seems to be a price she paid for being so determined when society precluded so many females from reaching their potential.
Platero is from a family where education was encouraged and earned her law degree from the University of Paulista in 2000. Four years later, she topped it off with an advanced degree in business law from FIEO University Center. She’s since earned other advanced degrees from Foundation Getúlio Vargas – FGV, Foundation Dom Cabral and ISE Business School, including a Master of Law from CEU Law School in 2020.
Business law always was Platero’s leaning; she sees her professional and personal lives intertwined, fostering growth in the other.
“Day to day, I’ve become a better mother, wife, employee and lawyer,” she says.
She and her husband are raising a 9-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter. Yoga helps keep her mentally refreshed, as does her upbeat view of life in general and how it can improve.
“It’s important to dream,” Platero says. “There’s the power of dream. Dreams are necessary for having a goal and dedicating yourself to reaching it by working hard.”
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