Conversation With…. Marise Cipriani
Granby, CO Colorado
How does a young girl from the megalopolis of São Paulo, Brazil, end up owning a ski resort in rural Colorado?
Marise Cipriani grew up in a family of four girls, but she – the third born – was set to become an educated businesswoman who followed in the steps of her grandfather and father, two highly successful entrepreneurs.
Her father founded and owned the third largest airline in Brazil, TransBrasil; her grandfather, of Italian descent, started one of the largest meat and food processing companies in the country, originally Sadia, now through a 2009 merger called Brasil Foods, which has since grown to be a global operation.
Cipriani refused to accept the notion that women don’t belong in the male-driven business world of her time. She started working in her father’s office at the age of 11 and worked her way up to eventually own her own advertising and marketing agency in São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil. She didn’t truly learn English until she was in her 20s, when her own family relocated to Miami. The Ciprianis have two children, Melissa and Gui, who in their early 30s share time between Brazil and the states.
Today, this savvy businesswoman is the owner and operator of Granby Ranch , the founder of the nonprofit organization Kapoks, which is dedicated to Sirolli Institute principles for fledgling entrepreneurs, and a key figure in bringing this concept to the town of Granby.
Tell me about your family:
My (paternal) grandfather came from a very, very poor family. He had to leave school when he was in second grade because he had to help his father work in a hayfield. He was so poor his first pair of shoes was when he was 9 years old. But he was a brilliant businessperson and an entrepreneur at heart. Very young, without going to school or anything, 19, 20 years old, he started a business. He had this idea of getting pigs, in a small town in the middle of Santa Catarina, like a small town in the middle of Nebraska, he would fatten the pigs, then go three days in the train, sell the pigs in São Paulo, buy goods he didn’t have in the little town, buy flour, plates, then sell them.
Brasil Foods today process 450,000 poultry per hour, it has 115,000 employees, it exports all over the world. It has great trademark recognition in a lot of countries.
Did your father go into this business?
My grandfather wanted my father to go into this business, but my father was crazy about aviation. (My grandfather) sent my father to a boarding school in São Paulo, where the airplanes would land at one of the airports.
He got absolutely crazy about aviation, and wanting to be a pilot, became an incredible pilot, and he started an airline, TransBrasil. It doesn’t exist today anymore.
The airline was such a big part of him. We always joked that the airline was the fifth daughter.
My grandfather never wanted to hear about the airline because he wanted my father to be an engineer, not a pilot, but my father had this great idea, transporting the goods that he was producing by airplane. He made the airplane (Douglas DC-3s from the war) half passenger and half cargo, to be able to sell (the food) fresh. There were no roads or refrigerated trucks in those times, so to be able to fly in a couple of hours, Sadia had a great boom, it suddenly had a big market, because it was able to sell to São Paulo.
The reason I’m saying all that is because those two men were very important for me as entrepreneurs.
When I think about the program we’re doing about enterprise facilitation here, I think I’m lucky, because I had examples in business.
I always wanted work when I was growing up. I was the one wired like this, my sisters didn’t want to work.
It started at 11. It started with my father, I would go to work at the airline. My first job was serving cafezinho in the office. After that, I graduated to being a filing person. And then when I went to start college, I went at night to be able to work during the day. And I started in marketing and advertisement for the airline. Then eventually I had my own ad agency, in São Paulo, at 21.
What was it called?
Intermarketing. It was fun, I loved it.
Everything I learned I learned working.
I think my father ended up learning to respect me as a business person. I would just show up in meetings because I needed to learn.
The last conversation I had with my dad, I was talking about Granby Ranch, and (Marise chokes back tears) he said, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ I said, ‘I learned from you.’
So, he really respected you..
He did. But it took him awhile.
I don’t know if I told you but I am a pilot also. And my father was an amazing pilot.
Did your dad teach you?
He didn’t. It was funny because he didn’t want me to take my pilot’s license. It’s not something a girl would do, you know. So I just did it. And I never told him. I did it when I was living in Miami.
I wanted to learn on the same kind of airplane that he learned on 40 years before, which was a J-3 Cub. So one day he arrived, and I said I have a surprise for you. So I took him to this little airport and said we’re going to fly, and we went flying. It was special. It was really neat.
I met my husband at 20 at TransBrasil. He worked in the legal department. Then he was transferred to the United States, and it was only supposed to be for one year because TransBrasil wanted to open a purchasing office in Miami for spare parts for airplanes. So we came for a year, but then one year became two, and I started working in sales for the airline. We made connection with Pan Am; but eventually TransBrasil started flying to the states.
The airline ceased around 1990.
That’s when I started to coming to Colorado.
How did you come to know Colorado?
When Gui was about to turn 3, we went to Italy, and a friend of ours said let’s go skiing. I had never seen snow, I lived in Florida, and I’m from Brazil, I maybe saw snow in New York a little bit, but not snow (sitting on the club level upstairs in Base Camp One, Marise gestures to the snowy slopes at Granby Ranch’s ski basin).
I was the one who fell in love with skiing. So I came back to Florida, and I had a friend who was a skier, and I asked where is the best place to ski in the U.S., and he said Vail, Colorado.
We made a booking, and we ended up in Beaver Creek. I really started learning to ski, my kids did too, and we fell in love with it and ended up buying a place in Beaver Creek. I was one of those fanatics. I would be the first one on the lifts, and the last one off. I did workshops, I did lessons, I had goals to do all Birds of Prey. I spent one of my summers in Beaver Creek with my children, and a lot of nephews, the whole family in Brazil.
It was a good time to buy property, so I started buying property in Beaver Creek, and started building. I had a couple of spec homes. So I guess that’s when I became a developer without even knowing.
Because we were doing all that, a broker in the Beaver Creek area said there is this place for sale in Grand County, do you want to look?
Here (Granby Ranch) is to create a place so people, family, would have the same experience I had with my children in summers and winters in Colorado in Beaver Creek. Really, it’s what I think were the best memories I have. When I look at the pictures of the time of us hiking and of us spending time together, and skiing, it was so amazing, it was something I wanted to build again. It’s a feeling I can’t really describe. Like when you have a memory so strong on you that it brings you happiness just thinking about it … This connection between us, family and nature.
And what is your husband’s involvement with Granby Ranch?
He doesn’t unfortunately. When we started, it was for us to have our life project, but things happened and there were things he had to be in Brazil for. When we both left the airline, my husband started mining; he is a partner in mining, several mines.
The only thing with my husband and I is we have an incredible relationship. It’s funny because he lives there and I live here, but we talk I think sometimes more than couples that are together all the time.
How did Kapoks come about?
My husband just started a new mining project, in the northernmost part of Brazil, in the state of Amapa. When I got there, I was devastated with the town. All sorts of problems. Basic stuff, from sewer running down the streets with 3- and 4-year-olds stepping on it, youth prostitution, lots of problems. I said we need to do something about it. We can’t start a project that will be here for 20 years and not think about this town being part of it. It’s the same thing here, we are all community, you can’t separate one from another.
I wanted to create a nonprofit, which is Kapoks, which doesn’t have any funding yet. (It was set up to have profit-sharing with the mining operation) but they don’t have any profit yet. The town is called Lourenço, or St. Lawrence, which is the saint that protects the miners.
Sirolli for me, it’s just perfect. For me as a very young person, there were two things very clear in my mind. I love business, and love doing things for people. So with those two things together, it’s a way of helping people without belittling them, and it’s promoting the entrepreneurial spirit.
I want to do something with these women so they feel empowered, especially with the amount of prostitution they have there.
Walking down the village, I saw an image that is so strong for me. There is a little girl, her hair is curly, she’s in the middle of the street. And she is standing, and in front of her there are three chairs, and there’s little kids sitting there, and she is teaching them. It was so amazing to see, she has something of her, we just need to do something so that it doesn’t die, so when she grows she can be a teacher, or have a school.
I always keep that image in my head. It was very powerful.
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