Roberto Azevêdo had a big year in 2020. First, the career diplomat surprised many when he announced his intentions to step down as the World Trade Organization's sixth Director-General, a year ahead of schedule. A few months later, any confusion regarding this bold move was soon replaced with collective comprehension, as the news broke that Azevêdo was moving to the private sector as a top executive at PepsiCo.
Since August 2020, he's served as the first-ever Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for the company. In this role, Azevêdo is responsible for a wide range of areas, including public policy, government affairs, and communications. He is also part of PepsiCo’s executive committee. From a broader perspective, his appointment was another example of multinational giants recruiting politicians and officials with geopolitical insights and contacts to match. The good news for PepsiCo's stockholders is that Azevêdo has both in spades.
Born in Brazil, he holds a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Brasilia. He subsequently attended the Instituto Rio Branco, the graduate school of diplomacy run by the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations.
After school, he joined the Brazilian Foreign Service in 1984. Four years later, he landed his first diplomatic posting in Washington, D.C. He later served in the Brazilian embassy in Montevideo before being assigned to the Permanent Mission of Brazil in Geneva in 1997. During the next several years, he held key leadership positions for the Foreign Ministry in Brasilia, first serving as head of the Dispute Settlement Unit and then Vice-Minister for Economic and Technological Affairs.
Based on this success in diplomacy, in 2008 Azevêdo was appointed Permanent Representative of Brazil to the WTO and other International Economic Organizations in Geneva. He remained in that position until 2013, when he was appointed WTO Director-General, a top role he held for the next seven years.
His achievements are undeniable. Under his tenure as WTO chief, Azevêdo oversaw the expansion of the WTO membership with the accessions of Yemen, Seychelles, Kazakhstan, Liberia, and Afghanistan. He also took steps to strengthen the WTO Secretariat, putting in place a range of reforms, such as increasing resources in the dispute settlement system.
On top of his business acumen and numerous global accomplishments, Azevêdo is also a polyglot, being fluent in Portuguese, English, French, and Spanish. A respected figure in the world of international economics, he has published many articles and is frequently asked to lecture in prestigious settings.