(Bloomberg) -- In a conference room of the run-down headquarters of Brazilian retailer Americanas SA, Camille Loyo Faria agrees that the office has seen better days.

It’s “ugly, as a company in judicial recovery should be,” the chief financial officer says. 

The 50-year-old started at the Rio de Janeiro-based company on Feb. 1, 2023, in the wake of its bankruptcy protection measure and accounting fraud that eventually reached 25 billion reais ($4.8 billion) — one of the biggest-ever in Brazil. It’s just the latest company that Faria has helped pull out of distress. 

“It’s like scorched earth,” she said of restructuring processes, in a rare interview. “I’m eerily calm in moments of heightened stress, and that allows me to disconnect and think with a cool head. That helps to have the courage to take risks.”

The former investment banker — with stints at Morgan Stanley, Banco Bradesco SA and Bank of America Merrill Lynch — has now been involved with two of Brazil’s largest restructurings, the other being at telecom operator Oi SA. She has established herself as a skilled negotiator to close difficult deals. Or as she puts it, she knows how to “equally distribute the pain.”   

Faria admits she’s uncomfortable talking about herself, but loves talking about restructurings.

“You have to have the stomach to deal with it all. The news in the press, the discussions with banks and creditors, talks with the shareholders,” she said. “It’s a lot.”

Even in her early career in telecommunications working on strategy, Faria had to manage moments of chaos and transition. The Brazilian government was privatizing large swaths of the industry during her time at Embratel and Telecom Italia at the turn of the century. That meant she was working on mergers and acquisitions, and frequently had a seat at the table during negotiations. 

She later broadened her remit to work on deals across Latin America. In 2006, she took on her first CFO role at a power firm called Terna Participacoes and oversaw its initial public offering. From there she moved to Sao Paulo to work in investment banking, advising clients in the telecom and energy industries.

While at Morgan Stanley she was asked to take over as chief executive officer of her then-client Multiner SA in 2010 to oversee a turnaround and sell the energy company. She moved back to the bank in 2012. Later, as a banker at Bank of America where Oi was a client, she decided to join the telecom firm as CFO in the midst of its judicial recovery process in 2019. 

“With investment banking the more senior you get, the more of a relationship person you become,” she said. “I have nothing against people who like that, but I’m not that person that likes to take clients for lunch, have a coffee, out to dinner. I like projects and I was getting further away from what I like to do.”

She joked about another realization she had when she left investment banking: “I was getting old as a banker, but I was still a super young executive.”

After a brief return to Telecom Italia’s TIM following Oi, Faria took on her biggest challenge yet and in retail, an industry she hadn’t worked in before. 

Sergio Rial, a former Banco Santander SA country chief who took the reins of Americanas for just days before quitting over the explosive findings, was the one who invited Faria to join as CFO with the backing of the shareholders. 

But Americanas only had days — rather than weeks or months — to prepare for a bankruptcy protection request. And it had to be done without a complete creditor list and without a clear understanding of the inner workings of the fraud. At the same time, the company was being rushed by all sides by creditors and suppliers scrambling to collect their cash.

Read More: Americanas Probe Circles Around Ex-CEO Living in Spain

“It was easy to accept the invite, as incredible as it may sound,” Faria said. “But it caught everyone by surprise. People wanted answers to a series of questions that the company didn’t have.”

Daniel Goldberg, a managing partner and chief investment officer of Lumina Capital Management, said he wasn’t surprised that Faria accepted the job. He worked with her when he was head of Morgan Stanley in Brazil and then again during his time at hedge fund Farallon, which provided financing for Oi’s restructuring. 

“Camille is one of the best executives in the market to handle this type of situation,” he said. “We handled high complexity and time-sensitive issues in a way that, to my mind, established Camille was one of the best around.” 

When it came to Americanas, Faria also had an emotional connection to the retail giant, a landmark in Brazil for more than 90 years. 

“I shopped there, bought shampoo there and candy,” Faria said. “When you think that certain experiences and knowledge that you’ve accumulated as a professional can help integrate a team and help save the brand and the company with more than 30,000 people it gives you a sense of purpose that’s totally different.”

It took months of digging through the company’s accounting records to understand the true dimension of the problem. Faria said she mostly dealt with Roberto Thompson, a long-time ally of billionaire shareholders Jorge Paulo Lemann, Marcel Telles and Carlos Sicupira, who all ultimately agreed to put up 12 billion reais to recapitalize the firm. 

Faria and her team managed to get more than 97% of creditors to agree to a plan that will shrink the company’s debt to about 1.8 billion reais and convert much of the liabilities held by banks into equity.  

“We weren’t trying to approve the plan with simple majority, it was trying to get everyone on board,” she said. “Because spending 12 billion reais to only resolve part of the problem is an expensive endeavor.”

She also downplays what from the outside appeared to be long, drawn-out contentious talks with certain banks, which filed harshly worded arguments in court, with certain details leaked to the press. 

Problems are far from over for Americanas and Faria. Late Wednesday, the company said in a filing that an arbitration process is being initiated by an investor over losses from the drop in the share price.

“Bankruptcies are painful processes,” she said. “For me, when you’re able to close the restructuring process is when people around the table feel that the pain has been equally distributed.”

(Updates in 25th paragraph with investor initiating an arbitration process.)

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