Andrea Pinheiro thought she was done with banking when a friend invited her to start a merger-advisory firm in 2009.
Three years later BR Partners, the company founded in Sao Paulo by Pinheiro and Ricardo Lacerda, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s former Brazil chief executive officer, is an investment bank taking market share from bigger rivals with help from its executives’ connections and a singular focus on Brazil.
BR Partners was sixth this year in advising on Brazilian mergers, based on the number of deals as of the end of November, topping international banks such as New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co., according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The dollar value of the firm’s deals accounted for 13 percent of the market, compared with 2.1 percent for all of 2011.
“There is space for a less-conflicted investment bank and for people who speak our language and who will be here in Brazil no matter what,” Pinheiro, 46, said in an interview.
Like Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, Pinheiro is blazing a path for women in a country where men account for most of the jobs in the investment-banking industry. Just 29 percent of executives hired through the headhunter firm Fesa Global Recruiters from 2010 through the first quarter of 2012 in the wholesale bank area were women.
Pinheiro, who serves as BR Partners’ chief operating officer, says local expertise wins clients. France’s Casino Guichard-Perrachon SA, for example, hired BR Partners as it fought earlier this year for control of Cia. Brasileira de Distribuicao Grupo Pao de Acucar, Brazil’s biggest retailer.
The Pinheiro family has been in banking for four generations. Andrea’s father, Jaime Pinheiro, sold his Banco BMC to Banco Bradesco SA for about $386 million in 2007, and both Jaime and Andrea, his only daughter, are investors in BR Partners.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and an MBA from the New York University Leonard N. Stern Business School. Her first job was as a trainee at BMC and then financial manager at Cotece SA, a textile company owned by her family. After the MBA, she became a merger-and-acquisition banker and analyst for SG Warburg & Co.
“I was a bank analyst, but I really learned to understand a bank balance sheet working with my father,” she said.
Pinheiro was a BMC director and vice president responsible for the investor relations, marketing, controls and planning areas. After the bank’s sale, she stayed at Bradesco for two years overseeing payroll finance, and then took a sabbatical. It was then that she was persuaded by Lacerda to join BR Partners.
“I didn’t want to work on banks anymore, I was tired and wanted more flexibility to stay with my son,” she said, adding that Gabriel, 12, has talked about becoming a banker. Pinheiro’s daughter, Isabella, 19, is a singer and wants to be a journalist.
“Instead of promising me huge wages, Lacerda convinced me to put my own money at risk to get the job,” she said, adding that she couldn’t resist the temptation of starting a bank from scratch.
Since 2010, BR Partners has returned about 15 percent annually on its 210 million reais in shareholders’ capital.
“Andrea adds a lot because she is a born banker,” said Lacerda, BR Partners’ biggest shareholder. Her relationships with mid-size Brazilian companies and entrepreneurs help the bank compete, he said.
In the mostly male club of Latin American finance, Pinheiro has learned how to succeed. She tells of one episode, early in her career, when an Argentine bank executive shared how seductive he found Brazilian women. “I was very young and just started shouting — in front of 15 people,” she said. “Nowadays, I would have controlled myself and let it go.”
Pinheiro handled the negotiations with Brazil’s central bank to obtain in June a bank and broker-dealer license for BR Partners.
“Andrea has a strong personality and knows how to assert herself in a male environment,” Lacerda said.