The busy life of Gato Preto CEO Carolina Afonso

Forbes magazine recently named her one of the most influential business leaders in Portugal. Vaughan Willmore spoke with Carolina Afonso about her exceptional career and her life, here in the Algarve. 

By her own admission, Carolina Afonso is not your typical Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Born and raised in Fuzeta, near Olhão, she speaks five languages, is a published author, and a visiting Professor at the University of Lisbon. At just 42 years of age, she’s one of Portugal’s most influential business leaders and an inspiration for entrepreneurs here and abroad. 

Fuzeta is a small and beautiful fishing village about 10 km east of Olhão. It’s where Carolina was born and still visits on a regular basis to see family and friends. Indeed, while our Zoom meeting took place with Carolina in her office in Lisbon and myself in the Algarve, she told me that later that Friday afternoon, she would be heading south to Fuzeta to spend time with her family and friends.  

I asked Carolina about her early years in the Algarve. “Fuzeta will always be part of my DNA,” she said. “While it’s a relatively small place, during the summer it’s somewhere where many cultures meet. In my opinion, it’s a great place to live and a great place to work. After all, we are very fortunate today, in that we can live locally and work globally.” 

Carolina has been with Gato Preto for three years, initially as Chief Marketing Officer and for the last 18 months as CEO. Gato Preto is ranked as the #1 home decor brand in Portugal and employs 600 staff. It has 66 retail outlets in Portugal and Spain, along with a well-developed online shopping facility which provides home delivery services throughout Portugal, and to Spain and France. 

Prior to joining Gato Preto, Carolina worked as Marketing Director for Konoca Minolta (a Japanese-based, multinational technology company) and for ASUS Portugal (a multinational computer hardware and consumer electronics company). Earlier in her career, she worked for the British Portuguese Chamber of Commerce. It’s a truly stellar career based on hard work, lifelong education, and a very personal ‘open door’ approach to leadership. 

Forbes described Carolina as ‘demonstrating excellence and leadership’ and that ‘her strategic vision and decision-making skills have driven the company’s success’. I asked Carolina what her priorities were for Gato Preto. “I work with many fantastic people and as a business, we’re focused on developing our customer offer, which would include the launch of a customer loyalty reward scheme. There will be a renewed focus on placing the customer at the heart of what we do and expansion of our offering so we deliver to more countries.”  

I asked Carolina what advice she has for anyone starting out on their career. “Two things,’’ she said. “Don’t be afraid to grab and even create opportunities. I don’t mean in a selfish way. I mean, don’t be afraid to grasp opportunities, even if that means taking yourself out of your comfort zone. Secondly, make a commitment to lifelong learning. I’m still learning and I think the best leaders are always looking for opportunities to develop themselves.” 

In both respects, Carolina certainly walks the talk. She’s studied in Lisbon and Madrid, and she’s worked in the Netherlands, so she’s certainly not shy of pushing herself out of her comfort zone. As for the lifelong learning, whilst working full time as Marketing Director of Asus (Portugal), she gained a Masters in Marketing at the University of Madrid. Such was her proficiency, she won a Best Student award and was invited to be a visiting professor, a position she still holds to this day. 

It’s a busy working life for Carolina. Surely there must be little chance of any downtime? “I have two young children, aged one and three,” she said. “They are my focus, along with the rest of my family. I enjoy reading and writing and going to the beach. Simple pleasures, really.” 

My chat with Carolina was insightful. She is very personable and clearly proud of her connections with the Algarve and, especially, Fuzeta. I wish her every success for the future and I have no doubts it will be just as exciting (and as busy!) as it has been for the last few years.


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