Executive Education Participant

Hélio Mosquim

Stanford LEAD ’17
North Region Technology Director, Vale SA
Hélio Mosquim
Hélio Mosquim
Our company can play a major role in the trajectories of people’s lives.
August 11, 2023

When Hélio Mosquim Jr. enrolled in Stanford’s LEAD Program in 2016, he was working as an IT manager for Brazilian mining giant Vale SA in Rio de Janeiro. A posting to the jungles of Brazil’s Amazon region was not in his future. “I was seeking to learn new skills, global skills, focusing more on innovation,” he recalls.

At Stanford, Mosquim was introduced to business concepts that not only helped him to accelerate technological innovation at Vale but also to advance his career. He and his wife are now moving to Belém, where he will serve as Vale’s technology director for Brazil’s northern region (Pará and Maranhão states) in the Amazonia area, which accounts for 66% of Vale’s iron ore business.

He combined this professional growth with a special purpose to foster social-economic development in the region through digital and innovation capabilities, aligning with the concept of sustainable mining. Vale, he says, is evolving “into being truly a sustainable company, not only in our core business but also in enabling solutions for climate change.”

Can you tell us a bit about your background and education?

I was raised in Brazil, in the suburbs of São Paulo. São Palo is a modern metropolis, but my parents come from rural areas. They came to the city for education, and it changed their lives and brought me the opportunity to also see that education can transform people’s lives.

As a little boy, I was always curious to explore the world, new cultures. When I was a teenager, I followed a foreign exchange organization called AFS. Back then, in Brazil, international and even transnational connections were not so common, but AFS connected me with people from different countries. I applied to go to the U.S. and was accepted, so I finished high school in rural Illinois.

So Stanford wasn’t your first experience of the American education system.

[They were such] different experiences, my high school studies in Illinois and my post-graduate studies in California cannot even be compared. Eureka [Illinois] was a small farming town. I was living in Congerville, an even smaller town with only 300 inhabitants. So when I was there, it made the front page of the local newspaper. I may have been the first Brazilian ever to reside in Congerville.

You obtained an MBA and initially worked in finance. How did you come to work in technology?

I started my career as an external auditor, so my finance background was a foundation that helped me apply for a job in technology for a German software company that started their operations in Brazil. They required business knowledge, and they taught all the integrated system management technology, so I became an expert consultant for technology in [the finance area]. This experience led me to international projects in Europe and later back to Brazil for Vale, leading projects for finance in the controllership department. I was always influencing the technology teams at Vale to apply transformation to finance, controllership, and forecasting.

Then in 2014, I was invited to move from finance to the technology area. Back then, I was a middle manager in a corporate technology department. In 2015, the country and the company were experiencing financial struggles. And I saw the opportunity — all these emerging technologies were coming up, AI, cloud, all this digital transformation was ramping up. So I started searching online for something related to Silicon Valley that would help us accelerate the transformation in the company. Then I applied for the Stanford program in 2016.

So you went into Stanford LEAD with the idea that it would help you accelerate the digital transformation of Vale?

Yes. My criteria at Stanford was always to understand what the main problem was I wanted to solve. I would pick a course where I could learn skills that I could immediately apply to the real world and bring the results back into class. I’d share those results and get immediate feedback from professors and my peers. So that experience was really deep and was noticed by the senior leadership in the company. And that’s how, in the following year, I got promoted to my first global executive role as manager of innovation for Vale.

One of the biggest challenges in a mining company is safety. So we focused our digital transformation on safety. I looked into the Stanford LEAD network and found a guy, Russell Rogers, the advisor of innovation for the U.S. Air Force, who could help us accelerate that. He joined us as an advisor. So that’s the type of connections we have from such a program.

What specific concepts have you applied at Vale that you learned at Stanford?

Design thinking has really changed the way we solve problems. We, as humans, are very good at problem-solving, but not good at problem-finding, understanding the root cause, understanding the problem per se. Design thinking is a holistic human-centered method that allows you to clearly tackle the problem before going into the problem-solving.

“I am bringing my skills with the objective of becoming a catalyst in partnerships.”

So in one specific case, the entire problem started with the procurement area complaining to me that from 25% to 40% of purchase requisitions were being rejected because they had mistakes. The design approach is to understand why people are making mistakes. For example, in the mining operation, we have workshop facilities where people would go to the system and request parts from procurement. But the process was without any intelligence, it was a mess. By understanding the process using design thinking, we were able to prototype possible solutions to solve the problem.

One of the solutions was to put intelligence into the process with voice recognition. So people out in the field would say, “I need this pump for this truck here.” And then, the system would translate that into the right part number and determine if it was necessary to go through procurement or just get it from inventory or get it from the supplier. But when we went out to the workshops and tried to use a virtual assistant, like Siri on iPhone, the workshop was so loud that we saw immediately that the solution would not work with voice recognition.

So then we said, “Okay, instead of voice recognition, why not image recognition?” We take photos of the broken piece, and the artificial intelligence will recognize the part number and do all the rest. We did the first high-level discussion and problem exploration work in three days, and then all the technical prototyping with a running, live system in less than four weeks.

All those methods — the problem-solving, the prototyping, and coming to the innovation — were part of what I learned at Stanford. Most of the skills that I learned at Stanford were applied together in this case.

You recently became Vale’s technology director for Northern Brazil, which includes Amazonia. Why did you take that role?

Northern Brazil is a global epicenter for iron ore mining, and it is also an impoverished and environmentally vulnerable part of the world. The efficiency and success of mining operations in Northern Brazil impact the global economy and play a major geopolitical role. And on the local scale, our company can play a major role in the trajectories of people’s lives. That’s why I’m here in the north of the country. São Paulo, all the southeast of Brazil, is very well developed and financed. But in the north of Brazil, it’s still under development, and there is a huge potential here for all the people that are here.

When people here have more opportunities to gain education or access jobs or markets for businesses, they will become successful entrepreneurs. Mining in Northern Brazil offers a direct connection to emerging markets, like bio-economy. I am bringing my skills with the objective of becoming a catalyst in partnerships with universities and local institutions, which, I believe, will forge new connections to the global network. And I believe that Stanford, with its connections, can help us connect the best of the world to the emerging markets of the Amazon area.

Historically, resource extraction has been associated with poor environmental practices and damage to local communities. Has that changed, and how is mining making a positive difference?

There is no question that mining practices of the past, throughout human history, have damaged communities and left a legacy of environmental degradation. At Vale, we have learned so much through our history that we co-created our purpose to improve life and transform the future. Together.

It’s an evolution. In the past, mining companies were considered as helping more in terms of creating jobs or tax collection or just the basic things. We would not be talking to each other here through all these devices if we did not have the metals that are used to build the iPhone or to build computers, cars, and everything we have in modern society. So mining has also improved lives by providing the necessary materials to modern society.

But we have evolved into being truly a sustainable company, not only in our core business, including actions for the environment and communities but also in enabling solutions for climate change. We now envision and declare ourselves as a sustainable mining company. It’s in our core, it’s in our principles, it’s in our business decisions.

For example, the electrification of cars requires energy transition materials — nickel, copper, and many other materials are the basis for the electrification for climate change. For iron ore, we have created a lower GHG emission briquette, and we have partnered with MIT to create low- or clean-energy steelmaking, creating a company called Boston Metallics that’s using clean energy instead of fossil fuel furnaces.

Steelmaking companies are one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters, and consequently contributors to climate change. Steelmaking is responsible for 8 percent of global GHG emissions. With all the low-emission solutions that we are bringing to our customers, we are making a huge contribution toward helping solve climate change.

So basically, Vale is evolving from a company that was just providing materials for modern society to a company that’s truly sustainable from operations to developing new solutions. We are providing solutions for the climate crisis.

What advice would you give to future Stanford LEAD students?

My advice is really to go deep, really ride the bike. You will never learn how to ride a bike just by reading a book or watching classes. You need to tackle real problems, apply the skills, and then you can see the results.

Photos courtesy of Hélio Mosquim

Hélio Mosquim
Hélio Mosquim
Stanford LEAD ’17
North Region Technology Director, Vale SA
São Paulo, Brazil
Stanford LEAD Program
MBA, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná, Brazil
BS, Business Administration, Fundação Santo André, Brazil
Professional Experience
North Region Technology Director, Vale SA, Brazil
Global Head of Technology Business Partner, Vale SA, Brazil
Head of Global IT Innovation, Vale SA, Brazil
Current Profile