Miguel Pardo Calvo white-knuckled his way through Brazil’s turbulent economy during three different downturns. He endured the wounds of a strained marriage, gained weight and lost his way. He was a businessman who had grown so accustomed to living with discomfort that he didn’t seem to realize he was suffering.
But in 2014, when his 14-year-old son was robbed of his shoes at gunpoint a block from his home in Brazil, something potent inside Calvo came to life.
“My son told me that he was shaking so much that it was hard for him to remove his shoes. He almost died,” said Calvo, president of the board of Totum Group Solutions. “I said, ‘It’s over. We will move to Spain.’ Nothing is more important than life.”
Three months later, Calvo moved his family and transplanted his engineering company headquarters to Madrid.
In 2017, Calvo launched two Vistage groups with 21 members total. He then brought Vistage to Portugal in April 2020, where he is now the company’s president, overseeing several Chairs in Lisbon.
‘I needed to learn’
A friendly man with an expansive worldview and positive outlook, Calvo’s success seems inevitable. But moving his then-20-year-old company’s headquarters from São Paulo was a risk. Fresh off a divorce, Calvo arrived in Spain with his teenage son and daughter and very few business resources. He knew no one and understood little about the country’s business culture. He had a lot to learn.
So, he went to school.
Though he had already earned an MBA in Brazil, Calvo enrolled in an executive MBA program at IE Business School, a prestigious institution based in Madrid.
“I sat at the back of the classroom, and I observed everybody,” he said. “I noticed how this one studies, how this one thinks, and from my class of 56 people, I hired five of my classmates.”
In fact, Calvo recruited his entire management team from IE. When complimented for his ingenuity, Calvo responds that creative thinking is born from necessity — an important lesson for today’s difficult times.
“I didn’t have alternative options,” he said. “It was the best way to meet people. To learn how the culture is, how the country works. I needed to learn, and that’s a way to learn.”
I always felt in my soul that I love to help people. But I discovered in Vistage that I am inspired to help people launch their objectives, to make a better world.
Building Vistage on the Iberian Peninsula
Calvo wanted to steep his new management team in the kind of out-of-the-box thinking he learned as a member of Vistage in São Paulo, Brazil. But Vistage did not have much of a presence in Spain. Working alongside Vistage Spain Founder Conor Neill, Calvo became the first Chair to found a group when they launched in 2017.
Calvo attended the Vistage Chair Academy in San Diego in 2017. He thought he was going to the Academy to learn how to bring Vistage to Spain. Instead, he discovered his life’s purpose.
“I found my ‘why’ in San Diego,” Calvo said. “I always felt in my soul that I love to help people. But I discovered in Vistage that I am inspired to help people launch their objectives, to make a better world.”
This philosophy inspired Calvo to promote and mentor Carlota Mata Lousa from her position as COO of Totum to CEO. He encouraged her to take risks. So, she did.
“Over dinner with me and my attorney, she explained her vision to transform the engineering business into a Big Data solutions company. She brainstormed with her management team and with her clients to evolve these ideas,” he said. “She broke paradigms. I said, ‘Wow. That’s impressive.’”
Calvo saw an opportunity in Portugal for businesses to benefit from Vistage — and an opportunity for himself to move to a land where everyone speaks his mother tongue.
Unfettered by geography, Calvo invites speakers from Asia and other regions hit early by the pandemic via Zoom to share insights and best practices with his European groups. One member told Calvo that he credits the group with helping him to adapt his retail business to the digital economy, saving his company.
Calvo sees a connection between his Portuguese members today and the business leader he was when he arrived in Spain all those years ago. And as the chapter continues to grow and gain new members, Calvo hopes that Vistage Portugal will inspire leaders to take the risks these times demand. “We are like a lighthouse,” he said.
“We are helping these CEOs to see what they can do in this new world. Business leaders are the ones who adapt jobs and transform communities. If we can help these business leaders, we can change the world.”