BY JOACHIM BAMRUD
Brazilian state oil company Petrobras is making history. By appointing Maria das Graças Foster as its new
Petrobras is the region’s largest company, measured by revenues and profits, according to the Latin 500 from Latin Business Chronicle. In 2010, its revenues reached $128 billion. The second-largest company in
Meanwhile, based on 2011 market capitalization, it ranks as the fifth-largest energy company in the world, according to PFC Energy.
Even before her appointment, Graças Foster was one of the most prominent businesswomen in
As director of oil and gas for Petrobras since September 2007 she played a key role in the company. She was also the only woman on the seven-member executive board.
No other major company in
Meanwhile, several foreign multinationals have appointed female executives to head their country operations. For example, Grace Lieblein is president of General Motors in
“Prejudice against women in the world of work is synonymous with professional weakness,” Graças Foster told Brazilian newspaper O Globo in an interview last year. “I have no prejudice against men.”
She also told the newspaper that she is against quotas for women in the labor market.
She also has private-sector experience, having served on the board of
But perhaps one of the key factors that landed her the
Her rise in Petrobras is also impressive in light of the still-rarer social mobility that exists in
“I lived in the Complexo do Alemão for 12 years, lived with domestic violence in childhood and faced difficulties in life,” she told O Globo. “I have always worked to help support my mother and my children and pay my studies. Willpower is everything for me. I was never afraid of work.”
A graduate in Chemical Engineering from the Federal Fluminense University (UFF), she holds a Master’s Degree in Nuclear Engineering from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (COPPE/UFRJ), and an MBA in Economics from the Getúlio Vargas Foundation.
Graças Foster, 58, is married for the third time and the mother of two children. She credits support from her mother for making it easier for her to rise through the ranks of Petrobras.
PETROBRAS: RELATIVELY EFFICIENT
Graças Foster takes over a relatively efficient company. Although it has faced political pressures from the past two administrations, it is run much more efficiently than its counterparts in
Petrobras only had 80,492 employees at the end of 2010 versus 184,090 employees at Pemex, according to the ranking of
However, many energy executives and investors are expecting that Graças Foster will improve Petrobras.
The company reached new highs under Jose Sergio Gabrielli, including the discovery of pre salt oil reserves and record $70 billion share sale, but his tenure was seen as more political than technical. Part of the problem was the administration of former president Lula put political pressure on Gabrielli. But another problem was that after Rousseff became president in January last year, relations between the Petrobras
Meanwhile, Graças Foster’s technical background and close relations with Rousseff may lead to a more efficient management of Petrobras. Before joining Petrobras as CFO in 2003, Gabrielli was most known for being a prominent academic and researcher rather than an energy professional like Graças Foster.
Like President Rousseff, Graças Foster is known as a tough and demanding boss, who demands results and that deadlines be kept. She starts her day at
Her loyalty to Petrobras is seen almost as a “religious devotion,” O Globo says “I would die for Petrobras,” she told business magazine Exame in 2008.
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