Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Brazil’s Other Power Woman

article from January 26, 2012
By Jamie Douglas

As most of us know, Brazil, the Southern Hemisphere’s uncontested economic powerhouse, has been very efficiently run by highly a competent technocrat, President Dilma Rousseff, who succeeded the wildly popular Lula da Silva.

Brazil has become a huge player in the energy industry with its homegrown Petrobras, the world’s fifth-largest oil company. It’s fast growing natural gas and power division has been very capably led by a woman named Maria das Gracas Foster, and as such, she has been accountable only to CEO Jose Sergio Gabrielli, who announced his resignation to become a politician, abandoning his position at the helm of one of Brazil’s most dynamic companies.

To many in the Latin American energy sector, it came as no surprise that his successor was quickly named, and it turns out to be 58 year old Maria Foster, a 34-year veteran of the Rio-based energy giant’s fastest-growing division. Her task is monumental, as she will be in charge of a US$225 billion expansion plan that aims to poke holes as deep as six kilometers beneath the sea floor to look for black gold and gas. The targets that were set for 2011 were missed because of the double whammy of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico rig disaster and difficulties in obtaining required equipment. I am sure that the recent Chevron oil spill off the coast of Brazil will have some cascading effects, as well. But Ms. Foster is clearly the woman of the moment, as the announcement of her appointment caused the company’s stock to surge to its highest level in more than eight months. The stock gained almost 5% between Friday and Tuesday’s close.

The story of her rise to the top is one of those enviable rags-to-riches tales. Born into a working-class family on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, she collected recyclables as a child to pay for her school supplies, eventually getting a degree in chemical engineering. She subsequently went to work for Petrobras, where she has been employed continuously, with the exception of a three-year break when she worked for Dilma Rousseff, the energy secretary for the state of Rio Grande do Sul at the time.

Foster has worked in every single division of Petrobras, having started her career as an intern in 1978. Her nomination, which is certain to be approved, will be voted upon on Feb 9. Congratulations to her, to Petrobras and to Brazil!

Jamie Douglas
San Rafael, Mendoza

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