Ana Paula Mendes – Defying the odds

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Brazilian entrepreneur Ana Paula Mendes exudes confidence and self-belief. Founder of APAM Consulting, she certainly has the credentials to spearhead the multi-million dollar projects for a long list of notable clients including: Franck Provost (Founder and Chairman) of Franck Provost Coiffure, Provalliance Group and Olivier Chemin (General Director) of Group Jacques e Janine. Guilherme Jacob (CEO) of Age do Brasil, KVSS Sairam (Chairman) of Prathista Industries Limited. However, it is the journey to success that makes Ana’s story so remarkable, one of how an ambitious child escaped poverty and the expectations imposed by society in rural Brazil. She has faced gunpoint, been kidnapped and received death threats. Undeterred by such hazardous beginnings, she has gone on to achieve what many could only imagine

Can you tell us About your upbringing in Brazil?

I grew up in the beautiful region known as Amazonia where life was very simple. We combined our own creativity with natural resources to live a simple life. We fetched water from a well to wash the dishes, cook and shower. Two times a week, I’d walk 2 kilometers to wash clothes in a river and we climbed trees to harvest fruit as an afternoon snack.

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A world apart from where we are Meeting today…

Yes! As a child I didn’t have time to play with other children because I had to help my family. With my father’s permission, I started working at a very early age, selling sandwiches and popsicles at the school gates. On the weekend, I’d work as a manicurist. I worked to help the the family to buy bread and groceries like chocolate milk, cheese and Coca-Cola. At that time, such things were otherwise too expensive for us.

Why did you leave home at 16?

Although I loved my home, I wanted to learn more about life and the world. Given the living conditions for most of us in the town, no one could imagine the possibility of having a different kind of life. Nor was anyone willing to make the effort to try and leave. In society’s mind, it was impossible! But I was a child with big dreams and knew my ambitions couldn’t be satisfied in the beautiful and safe world my family had provided.

I left my family home never to go back, with the clothes I was wearing and two grocery bags. One with two books and the other with two shirts. My shoes were old and damaged; I had to put a nail in one so I could keep using it. I said goodbye to my home. I said goodbye to that life, and I was very determined. Only death could’ve stopped me from my decision.

What was your family’s reaction?

I will never forget that day. My stepmother reacted as any loving mother would, she was afraid that I would get hurt in believing I could change my life and dream such big things! My brothers, were laughing in hysterics.

I looked in my stepmother’s eyes, which were so sad and concerned, and told her: ‘Hey, just because I have to pull water from the well to wash the dishes and sell sandwiches doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to travel the world, let me tell you something: Watch, wait and see what is going to happen. I will be the one with the real reason to laugh! Look, everybody: I am Ana Paula Araujo Mendes, and I will make the world know why I was born and that I am not a mistake!’ There was silence for a moment. Eventually my stepmother smiled.

And your father?

My father knew me better than anyone. He knew my ambitions and my dreams. He used to call me an eagle. One day he told me: ‘You know the difference between a chicken and an eagle? Chickens have wings but do not know how to use them. Sometimes, they don’t even know they have wings. You are an eagle and it is my responsibility to prepare you for want you want’.

Where did you go?

I moved to Belem, the capital of Para, life introduced me to different and harsh challenges. I had to work every day and study at night for years to survive. Weekends were when I made extra money. Life was much harder than I imagined. But it definitely made sense with time.

What jobs were you doing?

I worked as a babysitter, housekeeper, secretary, event advisor, and private dance teacher. After I acquired more qualifications through personal investment in my studies at university, I became a clerk, manager, executive, and television presenter, model and export analyst. As more time passed, I became a general manager and regional sales executive. Having professional experience working in different industries with different qualifications taught me flexibility to adapt to changes.

These experiences have given me the self-confidence necessary to challenge and develop myself in very difficult job environments and different countries; they have also taught me to be strong, to endure stress, to deal with pressure, to fight to be respected.

So you succeeded?

My achievements also were accompanied by sacrifices and bad experiences. I had to face prejudice, humiliation, abuse, violence and even death threats during this early period of my life.

I’ve met good people and cruel people. Both types have contributed to my personal growth. Good people helped me to understand the importance of love in what you do, and they have also inspired me. The cruel people taught me to be strong, to fight and to defend my opinion and myself. Most importantly, they drove my determination to make things happen.

You’ve since moved around the world what have you learnt?

Living abroad has taught me a lot about cultural differences. Instead of judging and complaining about behaviour, I try to understand local customs by researching and studying the origins of a population and its development up to the present time. Doing this helped me to better communicate my objectives and adapt to differences. It also taught me how to communicate properly about who I am and my personality to succeed in performing my daily tasks.

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Photograph: Audran Sarzier

Why Paris?

Besides the opportunity to learn the French language, Paris is an iconic capital that attracts visitors from the whole world. It is an historical and multicultural city that offers a large variety of pleasures and perspectives. At all times, Paris has been a source of inspiration for artists, brands, and individuals.

Paris is a strategic, smart investment location to develop your brand, sell services internationally, and develop professionally using the city’s “worldwide window” of a diversified international business community.

On a personal level, I chose Paris because it’s where I felt at home again. In Paris “everybody’s home”.

What are you doing today?

I’ve spent ten years as a business development consultant which began in Brazil, now I’m consulting for clients across Europe, Africa, and Asia through APAM Consulting. I focus on international business development services and on the identification and connection of business opportunities across multiple sectors, including consumer services, agriculture, entertainment, and energy.

What are you specialised in?

Among my specialities are the identification and engagement of relationships for starting a business, support for growing existing opportunities, enhancing knowledge for understanding markets, and the execution of competitive target market analyses.

Over the past few years I have been developing business opportunities for several companies seeking sustainable business growth in various industries such as automotive, investment funds, cosmetics, agriculture and the energy sector.

Photo: Audran Sarzier
Photo: Audran Sarzier

What challenges do you encounter when assisting overseas expansion?

Developing a business abroad can be challenging. It requires significant knowledge of the target country and its culture, language, and local habits. It’s also extremely important to define a clear strategy and set challenging, yet realistic goals.

My areas of expertise range from market analysis and business plan development to strategy execution support. That’s why I spend all the necessary time it takes with my clients to deeply understand their business, their value proposition, where they want to go, and how much effort they’re ready to invest in their development.

Can you share any information about your clients?

Unfortunately due the sensitivity of the projects I cannot divulge too much information about my clients. But I can say I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the leading chairpersons, directors, politicians and even sheikhs across the globe.

You come across as being very passionate…

I love what I do, and my clients catch that enthusiasm! For me, attitude and excellence, aren’t just buzzwords, they’re part of my everyday life.

In today’s constantly evolving marketplace, new opportunities are emerging, especially for small businesses. And this is where I have a lot to offer. As a small-business owner myself, I understand the need for a personalized, hands-on approach as well as a partner that’s proactive, nimble, customer-centric, and innovation driven.

What advice would you give someone who is told they can’t achieve their dream?

Keep strong, and please keep trying. Don’t be afraid to try again and again! It is not easy to change and make new choices in life. Time passes fast, and making changes can be risky and very costly to you. It may mean sacrificing years of your life and living without important things and people that you love. Alternatively, it can be a good thing to do, not just because it helps you to improve yourself, but also because you get to know more about your potential. “Surfing in different oceans” may not be the secret to getting rich, but it will definitely make you stronger and teach you new skills. It will take you to wonderful places you never would have believed you might visit!

If you are facing self-confidence issues over your future development and about achieving your dreams, I will kindly say to you that there is no right answer or perfect recipe to get there. You need to move. Go. Start somewhere. Everybody is different; the only thing we have in this life that is equal for everybody is the length of a minute. You have just one life; you are 25, 30, and 40 years old just one time in your life!

Further Reading
Ana’s professional website:
www.apamconsulting.com
Ana’s Blog:
www.anapaulastylebook.com

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