From Pizza Joint Fire to BC Powerhouse: A WBCM Interview with Camila Pezzutti Domingues Ishikawa

Welcome to an exciting interview with a business continuity powerhouse, Camila Pezzutti Domingues Ishikawa, who is a Vice President at the Brazil-based Banco Rendimento and founded the WBCM chapter for Latin American and the Caribbean.  

Camila took the time to share her experiences with Leah Sawyer, from the board of the DRI Foundation’s Women in Business Continuity Management (WBCM), a non-profit industry group dedicated to women supporting women in the field of business continuity with learning and networking.

Leah Sawyer: For many of us in this field, our interest was lit by a real-world situation or crisis. Did you have that kind of experience in your own life?

Camila Pezzutti: I did! As a child, I was eating in a pizza place when there was a fire in the kitchen, that quickly spread throughout the building. The workers were trying to stop the fire, and nobody told us there was a fire or gave instructions. I saw smoke and told my parents, and together we shouted at everyone in the restaurant to evacuate and shooed them out the door. And just in time! Barely a few minutes after everybody was out, the ceiling fell and the whole place burned to the ground. That left a big impression on me – even as a child, I had noticed danger, and been able to help save lives.

LS: Wow! What an experience, especially for someone so young. Then, as an adult, what was your work background – where did you come from, before business continuity?

CP: I sort of edged sideways into business continuity. My background is in finance and business. I have worked in the financial industry for over 20 years since my first corporate job in Arthur Andersen, and never really left. I got my undergraduate degree in accounting, in Brazil, and studied business in the US and Brazil.  I have worked in a number of related fields that very much informed my business continuity work – and vice versa: risk, audit, project management, process improvement, and budgeting.

LS: So, what was next – how did you get into this field? Was it on purpose?

CP: Not on purpose, but I’m so glad I ended up in this field, I love my job! My business continuity path started in 2004, when I got my dream job in Sao Paolo at BankBoston. I was working in another state in Brazil at the time, so flew in just for the day for the interview, and was thrilled to get the job. It was close enough to what I had done to date for me to believe it was a doable transition for me, and I was excited to work for a company known for having a great culture.

Our head office at BankBoston provided us with business continuity templates and I learned the basics. From there, I developed my skills, and eventually was building business continuity programs in various banks from scratch – all the usual work of creating policies and templates, conducting BIAs, managing tests and training, writing and validating BCPs and crisis management plans, and working with executives.

Nowadays my job focuses on other areas – operations and process improvement – and the business continuity work I do is mostly about developing the capabilities of the next generation of practitioners.

I teach at the college level about business continuity, and I am involved with the WBCM Group in Brazil – we do classes, webinars, interviews and podcasts.

I love business continuity, and have from the very first minute!

LS: I certainly know from talking with you, how passionate you are about business continuity. What is it that you enjoy about this field?

CP: Every day is different and challenging. I am passionate about helping other areas within an organization discover what their part contributes to the overall puzzle, and how a break in their processes can impact the organization.

LS: You founded the local chapter of Women in Business Continuity Management, and have taken a leadership and mentoring role for so many WBCM professionals. That’s a lot of work, thank you! What kinds of benefits have you noticed from that, for you, and for each other?

CP: Setting up a local chapter of WBCM was one of the most fulfilling things I have done in my life. What I have enjoyed the most in these past three years are our discussions, and the ways we lift one another up. We host classes, webinars, and podcasts to share our expertise with each other. In a WhatsApp group, we celebrate achievements and share job postings (and encourage each other to apply to stretch positions). I learn so much from the other women in the WBCM chapter, and we have created a powerful community that goes beyond just a professional network. The WBCM Brazil group is very special.

LS: You’ve been certified with DRI for a long time. Why did you pursue business continuity certification and what does it get you?

CP: I got my DRI Certification in 2008, an ABCP – I saw it as a way to line up my experience with the industry curriculum, and also certifies my experience in BCM and DR. DRI certification has been beneficial to my career, because not many people have this certification in Brazil. There are only around 200 certified people in Brazil, in a country of more than 200 million people – so having the certification opens doors to BCM professionals. I plan to get my MBCP, hopefully this year – life goals.

LS: Let’s talk about helpful advice – what good advice did you get, professionally, that has helped you in the field? What advice would you give a mentee, either what to do or what NOT to do?

CP: One good piece of advice that I received is to listen more than you speak. That’s how you learn. Especially in this field, we need input from all other areas, and have to patiently listen in order to do the job right. I also apply this when I serve as mentor to others – I try to listen and learn as much as I teach. Even if someone is new to the field, they have experiences and perspectives I don’t, and I can learn from them.

What I wish I had known earlier on was not to second-guess myself, and to be confident in my abilities. I had to build up the confidence to assert my expertise, but it was an important skill to develop. You don’t have to know everything about everything, to know what you know.

Here’s an example from my career. I had just started a BC manager job at a bank, when our data center’s backup generator failed after a power outage, without an existing plan in place to get the data center back online. In an urgent discussion with the bank executives, one of the Board of Directors gave me a list of instructions of how to handle it. As someone new to the job, I was tempted to just follow his instructions, but I knew they were not the right actions to take. Instead I told him, “You are obviously an expert in your field, and you hired me to be an expert in mine. Trust me; let me lead this crisis.” And he did. With his vote of confidence, we resolved the issue and over time I built a robust business continuity program. That was a powerful moment that taught me how much I was capable of, and that I could trust my professional judgment. I encourage others to work to develop self-confidence in your skills rather than focusing on everything you don’t know.

LS: You practice business continuity in Brazil, and are very connected to practitioners across the world. Are there unique challenges of doing business continuity in Brazil, as compared to other countries?

CP: I actually think that the key challenges are fairly universal. To be sure, there are regional variations in terms of which disasters or interruptions happen most. But when I talk with my colleagues at other global banks, we all deal with the same challenges: budget constraints, how to get management support, the need for training, stakeholder coordination (including the government), and coordination with third parties.

LS: Looking at recent history, COVID-19 has transformed so much, for so many of us. Has COVID changed how you approach business continuity, or how you approach life?

CP: Yes, the COVID pandemic has changed many things.

One of the biggest changes has been the switch in business from in-person to online. In Brazil, online shopping was not that common before – many businesses and restaurants only had physical locations, and didn’t do online ordering or deliveries. Now they do. We have also seen the rise of more digital banks.

In the business continuity space, many companies have shifted strategy from having an alternate location, to remote work. We have found it works very well, after we worked out the issues during the pandemic, and it is much less expensive than maintaining an alternate site. I know of banks in Brazil that have canceled their contracts with providers already, or are planning to. That’s a major shift.

Another big shift was that big businesses and the government realized they had to improve (or create!) their business continuity management. The Brazilian government created pandemic plans, business continuity plans, and crisis management plans. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a real eye-opener across the country about business continuity as core to an organization’s survival.

For those organizations that already had business continuity programs, a big challenge was the sheer volume of what had to happen all at once – everything we prepared for was put into practice, simultaneously, and more.  Another change has been switching mindsets from a short, fast approach to a long, measured approach. All crises have a timeline with an end; the challenge of the pandemic is that it has been going for a long time, but it has not yet ended, and probably will not for a while longer. That has made us more mindful of the need to conserve energy for the long haul. Switching from a sprint pace to a marathon pace has been a challenge.

I think we’ll continue to see all the ways the pandemic has changed our lives and business environments.