An old hand at innovation

Updated: 2012-07-06 07:48

By Wu Yiyao (China Daily)

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 An old hand at innovation

Mario Garnero sees huge potential in China's new-energy car sector. Gao Erqiang / China Daily

Where many people see problems, a Brazilian entrepreneur sees only challenges and solutions

Mario Garnero has a knack of turning his hand to things new. Garnero, 75, the chairman of Brasilinvest Group, has shuttled between Chinese cities carried by various airlines countless times down the years, but this time he decided to try something different.

"Instead of flying I chose high-speed trains so I could have a look at the hinterland it runs through," says Garnero, head of Brazil's first private development agency and one of the first Brazilian entrepreneurs to open an office in China after 1949.

Garnero is well known for his efforts in trying to marry exciting technologies and projects in China and Brazil, particularly new-energy cars.

He now wears the sobriquet "the father of the ethanol car" and has played a significant role in promoting cars driven by bio-fuel extracted from sugar cane, of which Brazil is a big producer.

Garnero says he was one of the first people to take mobile phone technology to Brazil, a ground-breaking step that would eventually revolutionize the country's communications industry.

But Garnero's horizon does not end with phones, and he sees a promising market for other ground-breaking technologies and plenty of opportunities for cooperation between China and Brazil.

"We see more and more cars in China, which used to be a kingdom of bikes, and we are finding ways of turning the cars into clean-energy ones," he says.

Garnero says he and his team visited plants of BYD Co Ltd, one of the largest Chinese automakers, this year and last year, and he was impressed.

"There are plenty of opportunities for cooperation between Chinese and Brazilian enterprises in new-energy cars," says Garnero, who has a background in both engineering and the law.

Garnero says he has been on the lookout for sectors that are "ahead of the curve" and that could profit from his experience. There are great opportunities in promoting patent and intellectual property rights partnerships resulting from joint ventures of companies of both countries, he says.

"The trade of the future will be knowledge intensive. I would also look into bioenergy and solar energy."

Nanotech, biotech, robotics and new-energy technologies are Garnero's current interests. The experience of developing the pro-ethanol program from scratch in Brazil in the early 1980s, as well as prototype projects developed in Brazil with mobile phones and personal computers, greatly benefited his career, he says.

Brasilinvest, which he set up in 1975, has become one of the largest investment agencies in Brazil and has 80 associates in 16 countries. It is involved in financial, telecommunications, infrastructure, real estate, environmental, health, agricultural and other sectors in Brazil and abroad. It says it has attracted investments of about $16 billion to Brazil, and its net worth is put at more than $1.5 billion, with the value of its project portfolio $6 billion.

Garnero says that close ties between China and Brazil would benefit the world at large, both economically and environmentally.

"The Brazil-China economic partnership has already made China Brazil's most important trading partner, and we are only scratching the surface."

Brasilinvest's first China-related project was in 1981, and since then Garnero has watched trade boom. Now it has 21 projects linked with China. Partnerships between Brazil and China have extended to essentially every industry, he says, and the two countries' comparative advantages make them more partners than competitors.

However, Brazil must increase the value-added element in its exports to China, he says. Trade in commodities aside, there are many fields of technology in which Brazil could develop research and development activities with China, he says, agricultural and offshore oil drilling being two examples.

As more and more graduates in China become start-up entrepreneurs after completing their college education, Garnero offers his suggestions to this group of young business people.

"You really need to know that you wake up everyday to do something you love, with a big smile on your face. If that's not the case, take the courage to change."

Garnero says he has often read Winton Churchill's memoirs, which instilled in him the idea that to succeed one must persevere.

Having the right connections is also important, and among his friends are former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, he says. His Chinese friends include Yue-sai Kan, the former TV program host who established a successful cosmetic brand, later snapped up by L'Oreal.

"Be an early investor and surround yourself with the best in terms of talented executives and advisers," Garnero says.

"It all comes to the quality of the people you are networked with."

In evaluating how successful China has become on the world stage, Garnero looks no further than his family. "You can tell how Chinese economic development is impacting the entire world by the increasing number of people who are learning Chinese language in Brazil. My 2-year-old granddaughter is learning Chinese at her kindergarten."

(China Daily 07/06/2012 page17)