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Interview with Sandra Santos

CEO da BA Vidro
By Catarina Freitas and Margarida Guimarães

Sandra Santos


“I loved being here and benefited a lot from the great professors we had, some of whom are still teaching here today”

Sandra Santos graduated from FEP with a Bachelor in Management in 1994 and earned her MBA from the Porto Business School in 1999.

She began her career at the Espírito Santo Bank (BES), where she held various positions (analyst, branch manager and business account manager). During that period she was an invited professor at FEP and FEUP. In 1999 she began a new career in industry, joining the BA (at that time Barbosa & Almeida) team, a company that produces glass containers, where she took on various roles (controller, financial director, director of human resources, plant director and CFO). Since 2014, she has held the position of CEO for a Group with over 3,800 employees, spread across 7 European locations and with a turnover of nearly ¤800 million per year.

Who is Sandra Santos?

A tough question to start with!

I think I am a perfectly normal person.

The only thing that may have made any difference in my career path is that I always believed hard work is worth it, particularly when something I really want is at stake. During my school years, for example, I remember it was very important to me to be a good student and earn good grades because I always thought that, one day, that could help me achieve anything I wanted. My philosophy on life has always been: since we must work, the ideal thing is to work on that which we like doing best. I have managed my professional life in particular such that I am never forced into a specific direction, I am always able to choose to do the things that I like best. I think I currently do something that I really love.

What made you decide to study at the School of Economics and Management (FEP)?

During secondary school, I always tried to be a good student because I knew that I wanted to get into FEP. A private university was out of the question, leaving Porto was out of the question and everything that was not FEP seemed far less interesting. It was a very simple choice.

How was the School during your time there?

When I entered FEP, the Management programme was very recent. My class was the second since the programme’s founding, so we were few students and we were privileged. I felt privileged to be here at the time because the programme was being led by those who wanted to do something very di I loved being here and benefited a lot from the great professors we had, some of whom are still teaching here today.

"I think that, at the time, what we got and what set apart the teaching at FEP was the subjects that we covered and the way that they were approached. Few universities cover behavioural and organizational issues."

What was your academic career at FEP like?

I really concentrated on earning good grades, making good friends (I still have great friends from my college years!) and taking advantage of a programme that was new and opened new perspectives for my career and even my world view.

What did you get from your training at FEP that you know you wouldn't have gotten anywhere else? How has being a FEP student made you special?

I think that, at the time, what we got and what set apart the teaching at FEP was the subjects that we covered and the way they wereapproached. Few universities cover behavioural and organizational issues. I remember the less traditional or nonstandard subjects that we covered very well, and I remember there were professors who approached even the more standard subjects, like accounting, in a very different way. I really gained a sense of pragmatism, a desire to work in companies. I had chosen Management precisely so that I could have a different career and I found great practicality here.

I started working in a bank as an intern and stayed there for 4 more years. As time went by and I began managing people, I realized that School had given me the foundations to do so. It was very curious to realize that we had probably been given training in the areas of behaviour and organization too early on, because they were first and second year classes, before we even knew what a company was.

"At the time, I think that what set us apart was our capacity for sacrifice and effort because, as I said, the programme was in the process of being created, which meant that not everything was obvious or predefined."

Do you think FEP graduates have certain transversal characteristics that graduates from other schools do not?

At the time, I think that what set us apart was our capacity for sacrifice and effort because, as I said, the programme was in the process of being created, which meant that not everything was obvious or predefined. That taught us to be flexible and to accept that life can't always be predefined from the start. At the time, when we entered the job market, we had somewhat of an edge for that sense of adaptability; we were open to doing things, whatever they were, even if only to gain experience and learn. So I do think that, at the time, that small distinction was notable.

Any advice you would like to give to current and future FEP students?

Get to know what's out there and prepare for all eventualities. I think it's valuable to set out with a sense of the things you eventually don't want to do, but you shouldn't start thinking that you only want to do certain things, which is very different. You should keep your options open and not be too demanding early on.

I think students who graduate from School these days are very demanding, both with the companies that hire them and with themselves, because they think that they should gain a lot of power and autonomy very quickly.
Be ready to learn!

The most successful people I know are those who do what they like best; for me, that is success, and it has nothing to do with job titles or power, but rather with waking up every day and going to work satisfied. It's about being capable and enjoying learning, learning, learning and, at the very moment we think we are no longer doing something that fulfils us, having the courage to make a change.

You should make a pact with yourselves to seek and do that which you love most, because working life is hard, anywhere, even if sometimes you think some companies are tougher and more demanding than others. Working is hard, fighting for your place is hard, but if we do something we love, it will be a lot easier and really fun!

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