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Banker of the Year: Setúbal stays grounded as Itaú flies

The rise of Itaú, led by its chief executive, Roberto Setúbal, is one of the success stories of a generation in banking. Consistency and a canny approach to acquisitions have been the key to Setúbal’s achievements. And that is not going to change even as Itaú Unibanco cements its place as one of the world’s largest banks. Rob Dwyer reports from São Paulo.

ROBERTO EGYDIO SETÚBAL is an engineer by training. Like his father, Olavo Egydio Setúbal, he attended the Escola Politécnica, the most prestigious engineering university in Brazil, before following his footsteps into the family bank. In the 1970s, when engineers were qualifying into the bleak job market of Brazil’s contracting industrial base, Setúbal senior hired engineers to his small but growing bank in droves. Engineers spread throughout all the bank’s departments: the treasury, its control functions and the back offices. Banco Itaú quickly became known as the bank of engineers. This was a compliment. The bank was quickly developing a reputation for having the same qualities associated with engineers: discipline, control, logic, method and, above all, consistency.

This culture is a large part of the answer to the question: just how has Roberto Setúbal grown his bank, which is today the world’s 10th largest? Itaú Unibanco’s market capitalization was R$109 billion ($67.9