It did not seem like a propitious time to launch a serious news magazine in 1968 when Roberto Civita, scion of the Brazilian publishing concern Abril, decided to start Veja, a glossy that would stand somewhere between Time, Newsweek, and People Weekly. Civita’s father founded Abril 18 years before as a conservative media company, but Roberto saw an opportunity to be the biggest player in a quickly growing country.
The problem was that the military government in Brazil was not happy about dissenting voices, and was intent on censoring them or, worse, shutting them down. Civita, though, was careful. He pegged his magazine as straightforward, at the same time riding a wave of increased literacy in South America’s largest nation.
Civita took over as chief executive of Abril from his father in 1982 and built a varied media empire, which included not only Veja, but comic books, book publishing, magazines, cable television, and maps and travel guides. Veja was Abril’s flagship, and its tone and credibility set it apart from cheekier Brazilian titles, winning respectability from both right and left in Brazil’s increasingly tense political climate. He kept his company above politics and made good profits even when Brazil would have its periodic bouts of currency devaluation—Veja had a circulation of more than 1.1 million at the turn of the millennium.
Abril was the first Brazilian media company to attract significant foreign investment — $50 million from the U.S. firm Capital Group. Abril now publishes seven of Brazil’s ten largest circulation magazines, and by 2004 sold 180 million copies a year and reached 26 million readers.
Not only is the media Civita’s business, it’s his passion. During Wharton’s 2006 Global Alumni Forum in Rio de Janeiro, he explained, “Ensuring the free flow of accurate information and responsible opinion and analysis to the largest number of people possible is the best way we can nurture the economic, social, and political development of our great country.”
A member of Wharton’s Executive Board for Latin America, Civita has been a keynote speaker at two other Global Alumni Forums.