Top Businesswoman to Head State-Run Oil Giant Petrobras

By Dialogo
January 25, 2012

State-run oil giant Petrobras announced on January 23 that top executive Maria das Graças Silva Foster, a protégé of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, soon would take over as the company’s first female chief executive.

The 58-year-old Foster, who holds a degree in chemical engineering, will replace 62-year-old Jose Sergio Gabrielli, who has held the job for nearly seven years.

“The choice of Foster is not a surprise. Since the early days of the Rousseff administration [in January 2011], her name was mentioned as a possible successor to Gabrielli,” oil expert Adriano Pires told AFP.

He said one of her top priorities would be to boost Petrobras’ output, which fell 0.9 percent last year compared with the previous year, and to gain the confidence of the market.

In 2010, Petrobras was the world’s third biggest oil producer in terms of market value with US$ 228 billion. By late last month it had fallen to 5th place, with its value down to US$ 156 billion, according to the daily newspaper O Globo.

Foster has been with Petrobras since 1978, when she joined the company as an intern. She has been running the company’s gas and energy unit since 2007. She is reputed to manage with “an iron fist” and said to be close to Rousseff, whom she met while the latter was an energy secretary in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.

In 2010, the Latin American magazine America Economía hailed her as the most powerful businesswoman in the region and the Financial Times listed her among the top 50 businesswomen in the world.

Petrobras has found huge deep-water oil reserves off the Brazilian coast, which could hold some 100 billion barrels of high-grade crude and which could turn Brazil into one of the world’s top crude oil exporters.