The Entrepreneur


Norberto Odebrecht`s moral cornerstones for entrepreneurship were molded while he was still young: he inherited discipline from his mother, Hertha; education for work from his father, Emílio, and the master builders; and from walks alongside the Lutheran pastor, Otto Arnold, the certainty that serving is more valuable than being served.


It was in 1940s Salvador, characterized by shortcomings of all types in the infrastructure sector, where Norberto Odebrecht`s entrepreneurial career path emerged. His first challenge was taking on his father`s business, while he was still an engineering student at the Federal University of Bahia Polytechnic School. He opened a company with two students from his university, Francisco Valladares and Otto Schaeppi, and cleared the debts that his father had accumulated, by forging a political pact with bankers and through renegotiations. He also established an economic pact with his Clients, promising them productivity and shorter deadlines, and a social pact with the master builders. They were responsible for leading projects, his “small companies” and, in exchange, they received a share of the profits. Thus, not only was Norberto Odebrecht Construtora Ltda created, but an entrepreneur was also produced.


One by one, new projects flourished in Bahia following these agreements. The Rui Barbosa Courthouse, Hotel da Bahia, the Workers Organization and the Ilha do Fogo River Shipyard between Juazeiro and Petrolina, are a few examples. But they were not projects like all the others at the time. Norberto Odebrecht innovated with what was seen as a rule for civil construction at the time, where he installed all of the concrete structure, and only started to build the walls when the last slab was ready. Work was only performed once at his company: when the first slab was ready, and the workers started on the second one, the walls for that floor were put up. Therefore, he met deadlines efficiently, lowered costs and gained in quality. Everything to serve and respect the wishes of who mattered most throughout the entire process: the client.


For its innovative vision in the late 1960s, the construction company`s business reached greater heights, beyond the northeast, such as the construction of Rio de Janeiro International Airport (Galeão) and, abroad, with the establishment of businesses in Peru, Chile, Angola, Ecuador, Argentina and Portugal. The visionary, Norberto Odebrecht, emerged as an entrepreneur ahead of his time. By dedicating time and experience to his members and decentralizing decision-making, he formed not only partners, but people who were prepared to serve – and be entrepreneurial.

Three Pacts

The entrepreneur explains how he cleared his father`s debts during the 1940s, and solidified the concepts of decentralization, planned delegation, partnership and sharing results.

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