Anthony Jezzi, class of 1988
The following interview is part of a new project which aims to help Senior pupils. Henrique E, Humanities and Social Sciences Prefect at our school, is interviewing Old Pauleans about careers and professional life. This conversation with Old Paulean Anthony Jezzi, class of 1988, was performed online in September 2023.
President & CEO at Keytrade Fertilizantes and Chairman at St. Paul's Foundation, Mr. Jezzi has not only a beautiful trajectory as a Paulean, but also a solid and long path in business administration and international commerce. Read his story.
At what moment in your life did you start to seriously think about careers?I must have been around 15 or 16 years and if my memory serves me right I was in Form 5.
My year group (Class of ’88) was the 2nd IB year group at school and the U6 year had only recently been created and was not yet mandatory to obtain the Brazilian Diploma. Since I had already decided not to sit the full IB Diploma, as it was all too new and untested and my plan was actually to stay and attend a Brazilian university, I was going to leave school after I finished L6 and therefore it was the right time to focus on potential careers.
What type of access to career guidance and education did you have as a Paulean?Unfortunately, at that time we were not as fortunate as pupils at St. Paul's are today as we did not have a structured career guidance department. It was more informal and handled by some of our more senior teachers.
I believe I attended the first-ever Career Evening event organised by the school. It took place in the school’s Hall/Theatre (which used to be where the Prep classes are today) and many companies (Brazilian and International) had a stand (more like a table with some promotional material on it) with one representative of that company willing to talk about what they did. We all went from table to table talking to them without a proper script of what to do, questions to ask and what to expect. The interesting thing is that, at that time, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and basically went to speak to only one company. The President of SANBRA (Sociedade Algodoeira do Nordeste Brasileiro), that belonged to the trading group Bunge y Born, Andrew MacDonald, was a parent at school and at the time also the Chairman of the FABEC Board and was extremely welcoming and encouraged me to look them up once I was already attending university. I clearly remember him saying that the group would welcome any St. Paul’s student given the excellent education and values we received at school. A couple of years later I reached out to him again and after a series of interviews, I got my first job as a cotton trader and ended up working for him at Bunge for 13 years. He was one of my most important mentors and became a dear friend who very sadly passed away recently.
Where did you do your undergraduate degree and in which subject?I studied Business Administration and International Commerce at Universidade Mackenzie. I don’t really know why but I always wanted to work with trading. I didn’t know at that time what exactly I wanted to trade but the thought of being able to engage with clients and suppliers from around the globe appealed to me. I knew I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk doing repetitive work 10 hours a day. I much rather preferred to travel to different places, meet interesting people, learn about different cultures and engage in a challenging and complex industry and hopefully be able to make some money out of it. The path I chose, which was trading agricultural commodities, gave me all these things and a lot more.
Very few professions require you to dominate so many aspects of the market. You need to be familiar with the farming side of the business which in turn requires you to understand about the inputs used such as seeds, chemicals, fertilizers and all the machinery used to produce such a commodity. You then need to understand finances in order to be able to hedge your products and finance them. Logistics plays a major role in trading as you need to send product from the farm to a port by trucks, barges or railway and then ship it to another country, most probably another continent. Understanding different cultures and their needs allows you to better relate to your counterparties. This means also understanding about their political, social and economic situation at any given moment. Finally, you have to know how to buy and sell (trade) which is the summation of all these activities. There is no one year similar to the other in the agri-trading industry and this presents enormous challenges which is truly fascinating if you have the stomach for it.
Did you take advantage of any work shadowing or internships at school or college?
We had no work shadowing programme during our school times as this wasn’t actually something common at that time.
While in college, I had an internship for 6 months in an import & export company which also belonged to a parent from School. Even back then, some 35 years ago, the networking provided by our school was extremely useful and helpful when needed. This is something that students need to take advantage of in all phases of their lives. Parents and Old Pauleans are passionate about the school and will do everything to assist pupils in coming out of it and starting their professional lives. I think the Graduway platform launched by the school a few years ago is simply sensational and should be used to its fullest extent.
After I completed my 1st year of university, I had to make a very difficult decision which was to transfer my course to nighttime so that I could begin working for SANBRA as a trainee and continue studying at night. I can honestly say that it was the right call and gave me a real edge in my professional life although at the time I always doubted myself and felt that I was giving up part of the glamour of university life.
In what way did university prepare you for post-qualification jobs?
After seeing what an IB course offers our pupils, and having lived this experience with both my children, I now know how beneficial this programme is for students moving from school life to university life and how well it prepares them. I did not have this experience and I was not sure what to expect from university.
Similar to what we had at school, in university, there are teachers that have a very deep impact on you, shape your thoughts and the ways you look at your future. Some are excellent teachers, not because they know everything about economics, accounting or marketing but because they are able to get you thinking by yourself and enable you to learn. They are always instigating you to be curious and research everything on your own and question everything. This is a lesson one carries throughout life. Only a small portion of the information/knowledge you will need for your professional life will be obtained at university. You will be continuously searching for knowledge, chasing information and solving problems throughout your entire life and the best way both our school and universities can prepare you is to offer you the ability and interest to keep learning.
In my specific case, the great majority of teachers covering my courses were professionals working in the same marketplace I was targeting. This allowed me to exchange ideas and discuss real day-to-day situations which was very beneficial as it gave me the opportunity to link the information we were receiving during the lessons with the practical cases. Take advantage of this if you encounter professors who also have jobs, or have had jobs, in the industry, whatever it may be.
Talk to me about your initial job experiences - what went well and what challenges did you have to face - how did you overcome these?I was only 19 when I started working for SANBRA and I have to admit I was very scared as I didn’t know what to expect. Their trainee programme was quite extensive and allowed me to see many different areas of the company, such as HR, finance, marketing, industrial and logistics and finally the department I had been hired for, cotton trading. Bunge y Born was one of the largest cotton trading companies in the world and SANBRA was their main operation, as not only were they trading cotton from all over the world but they also supplied all of the cotton consumed by their sister company, Santista Têxtil. I quickly found out that working with agriculture, one spends a lot of time navigating through challenges. There are so many factors that influence the day-to-day of this trade, such as weather, economic and social issues, governmental and political influences, just to name a few, which we are never in control of and can hardly ever predict what’s going to happen. I was very fortunate to have excellent mentors with years of experience in the business, who helped me not only to learn about trading but also to keep calm and tackle one problem at a time, prioritise and always have a commercial view of the situation. I can say that I learnt the most when we came across challenging situations or periods. One should always take advantage of these moments and not hide or run away from them.
In terms of career readiness and preparation for future careers, what advice would you give the class of 2023?Do not panic if you still don’t know what you want to do with your life. You may be 17, 18 or even 19 and it is ok to be uncertain. Think of what excites you, what drives you the most. Remember that the world is changing ever so fast and the jobs we used to have 10 or 15 years ago may no longer be there tomorrow. New opportunities are being created with specific knowhow that is still being developed and you are all in the right place and time to enjoy this. Your emotional and personal skills will have great value and yes, the soft skills one hears so much about these days are really important and critical. Be open to adapt to the environment and to change as this will be a constant in your life. Dedicate time to learning and researching about these new careers and talking to as many people as possible about their involvement with these areas.
Building on your thoughts, what advice would you give younger pupils?No matter what your decision is or what path you decide to take right now or in the future, place yourself before anything else and do not neglect your own needs. You want to be happy and live a good life and finding a career/job that fulfils you is a great way to achieve that. We all say “work hard to play hard” but if you are not happy at your job or aren’t feeling fulfilled, it will be very difficult to put in the hard work that is required and expected of you. This goes for any career you chose, be it in the financial market, the teaching sector, opening up your own business or volunteering in a noble cause. This does not mean to say you can to be laid back and wait for things to happen. You need to be proactive and chase your dreams. You will be competing with young adults from around the world who have also been very well prepared and are very hungry to prosper.
When you interview prospective co-workers, what do you look for or what would you look for?Interviews can cover a wide range of attributes and for every specific position, there are some more important than others. Does the candidate have good communication and interpersonal skills? Is he a team player and does he have leadership qualities? What skills, experience and accomplishments he brings to the table? These are obviously important traits but for me I take my time trying to identify if the candidate has the right attitude and strong work ethic. His maturity (not age) is crucial to determine if he will be a good fit so reading his body language and seeing how he behaves during the interview is always helpful. Above all, his character is the differentiating factor in the equation.
What are the challenges facing generations Z and Alpha in terms of being successful, fulfilled, productive and happy in the current job climate?Being part of this entirely digital-only generation (Alpha definitely more than Z generations) can be extremely frustrating, not only in the workplace but in life in general. With few exceptions, most companies will be composed of a mix of generations, and as such, one will need to be able to adapt and navigate the challenges that arise with it. You will need to be resilient in the pursue for causes that might be important to you, such as: sustainability, global climate, racial and social justice, diversity and inclusion. The speed in which career development and advancement happens is definitely important for both these generations but so is work life balance and this brings yet another challenge that needs to be addressed. These generations thrived with the new online, flexible and purpose-driven workplaces but companies are now questioning if this is the right way to go, and this is an issue which will have to be managed very carefully moving forward as companies are reviewing if this is the right way to move forward. As you can see, conflict is a constant in any professional life and the new generations have to understand that both sides have to try to compromise and adapt with time to reach a balance.
I believe that both these generations bring positive attributes to the workplace and have distinct characteristics shaped by their experiences and upbringing. This sentiment may vary slightly, or a lot, depending if you find yourself in the older generations. Understanding these unique characteristics is vital for organizations to engage and retain these young talents so it’s up to you to be able to negotiate these differences and show your values.
How can these generations best prepare for careers which have yet to exist?Information, information and information. In this fast changing world we live in, it is extremely important to remain updated on what’s going on. Only a while ago, the world was considering AI a terrible threat and focusing only on job losses but now millions are being spent theorising about new professions, fields and exciting employment opportunities. If you don’t spend an important part of your time reading and studying about these important changes, you will not be ready, nor prepared, to take advantage of them. Commit to continuous learning and focus on the skills and attributes you will need in this rapidly changing world. No matter how fast the world heads into these futuristic careers, human capabilities, good people skills, advanced analytics, strategic thinking and social and emotional balance, are always going to offer you the employability you deserve. This does not mean to say that if you are not interested in this technology and digital world, you will be left out and not have a fulfilling career. As an example, due to what we have experienced over the past few years with the pandemic, mental health issues, wellbeing and safeguarding problems have exponentially grown across the globe and this in turn opens up many different demands in various sectors. This again brings me back to the real need of continuous learning and research about everything that is going on so that you can best decide what options you have out there to pursue.
Any top tips for our readers in terms of career preparedness - what advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?As I said earlier in the interview, do not worry, everything is going to work out. You have had a fantastic education and upbring and are very much in control of your future. You just need to understand that at this specific moment, you are not making decisions for life, there is plenty of time to correct any mistakes and adjust your path. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have thought it through very carefully, you have spoken to people around you that can give you sound advice and finally, you are going to be doing something you like and will make you happy.
One specific advice I would give to a younger me but that also applies to all of you is, don’t be afraid of taking risks. Experiment, go outside your comfort zone, prove yourself in ways you didn’t think possible. All this will enrich your early work experience and will give you the confidence to move forward and prosper.
What is the key to success nowadays?This is probably the toughest question and one that may be answered 10 different ways if you ask 10 different people. Some people describe success as having money, fame or power while for others it may well be the satisfaction of helping people or seeing your children cherish and build their own family. Success is knowing you have accomplished things by giving your best, being prepared, working hard, never giving up, being true to yourself and respecting everyone around you. If you look carefully at St. Paul’s values (Kindness, Resilience, Responsibility, Inclusion, Adventure and Aspiration), you will realise that all these put together should help you reach a successful life, and trust me when I say this, they do!