Julius Wiedemann was born in Brazil, but has lived as far afield as Japan, the UK and Germany for most of his life. A senior editor at Taschen and the chief curator at Domestika, he is a cultural force who recently returned to his motherland and intends to stay because he sees an ocean of opportunity across a host of sectors.
For someone who has lived all over the world, why did you choose to settle back in Brazil?
Julius Wiedemann: I’ve been trying to move back for a long time. I see opportunities, things that can be done and a growing group of people that is serious about doing it. For 10 years, I was on between 80 and 120 flights per year. I was sleeping everywhere and living nowhere. The pandemic actually forced me to live in Brazil. I spent six months in Trancoso with my family, then we went back to São Paolo and now we move between the two.
Over the years, I kept meeting Brazilians that were serious about what they did and had good ideas, so I was attracted back. One thing Brazil doesn’t lack is creativity, but if it’s the champion of one thing it is the champion of missed opportunities. And I don’t say that lightly. It is the kind of place where you look and think, “Why has no-one done that yet?”. Anything’s possible.
What are the opportunities you see?
JW: I see so much opportunity in education. In fintech, for instance. Brazil is not a banker-focused society, so there is a lot of opportunity in finance. Investment in people, to be able to pay in parts and not using credit cards or utilising electronic invoices every month. People are becoming smarter about the country’s deficiencies and then creating businesses around what is lacking.
Distribution is a nightmare in Brazil, so there are opportunities there. And people are always talking about the luxury market, but it only represents 0.1 per cent of business. Instead, you have a growing middle class, especially in the centre of the country. If you go to the interior of São Paolo state, there are brands you’ve never heard of like Dallas pasta turning over R$2 billion a year.
How do you describe the Brazilian business landscape?
JW: It’s an environment that teaches you a lot. I have a friend who is the Chairman of Bunge and was the CEO who took the company from R$1 billion to R$10 billion turnover. He’s on the global boards of Pepsi and Bayer. He told me an interesting story that if you want to become the global CEO for Bunge, you first have to be the CEO of Bunge Brazil for five years because to navigate this country you have to be very smart.
You have to think hard and fast about things, so it’s a good schooling. So many things are complicated from an emotional and technical point of view. Tax laws can be crazy, working laws are getting a little better but still difficult, and distribution is not easy. But on the other hand, if you have scale, if you have the ambition to do things in Latin America, there is no better laboratory than Brazil.
And what about culture?
JW: There is one positive sign. In Brazil, there was always the idea that culture had to be subsidised. I can now see an end to the era of that kind of structure. People will have to learn how to mix culture with business. It is positive when you begin blending culture with entertainment.
The Americans did it, the British did. It’s just a question of losing some of the prejudice. Because something is made with the backing of private money, doesn’t mean you are diminishing the work of the artist. There is so much territory for art and commerce to come together. Government funding has its place, but it’s not fair to use money that should go into schools or the health system.