Maria das Graças Silva Foster is a Brazilian business executive and chemical engineer. She is the CEO of Petrobras-Petróleo Brasil, Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, which is located in Rio de Janeiro. She is the first woman in the world to head a major oil-and-gas company. In April 2012, she was listed on the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world. In August of the same year, she was recognized as the 20th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes Magazine. She was ranked by Fortune magazine in 2013 as the Most Powerful Woman in Business (outside the U.S.) for the second year in a row.
Foster joined Petrobas as an intern in 1978, utilizing her Masters degree in chemical engineering. She was hired as a chemical engineer in 1981 and went on to serve in managerial roles in the Gas and Energy Business Unit and at the Leopoldo Miguez de Mello Research and Development Center, as well as the Transportadora Brasileira do Gasoduto Bolivia-Brasil.
In 1998, Foster was working for a Petrobras unit that was involved importing natural gas from Bolivia. During this time, she met Dilma Rousseff, who in October 2010, would be elected to serve as the first female President of Brazil. In 1998, Rousseff was a relatively unknown energy official, serving in Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil. Foster and Rousseff developed a lifelong professional relationship, based in their mutual support of the leftist Workers Party, which rose to power in 2002, resulting in the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as the President of Brazil. At this time, Rousseff was named the head of the board of directors of Petrobras, serving for seven years during the administration of da Silva.
When da Silva appointed Rousseff to serve as Brazil's energy minister, Rousseff appointed Foster as one of her top aides in the national capital of Brasília. In this capacity, Foster functioned as both the Executive Secretary of the Federal Government Program for Mobilizing Brazil's Oil and Gas Industry (PROMINP), and the Interministerial Coordinator for the National Program for Biodiesel Production and Use. She continued serving in these roles for two years, after which she return to Petrobras. As colleagues, Foster and Rousseff continued to research, network with individuals and organizations, and cultivate international partnerships in an effort to develop foreign investment opportunities to increase and enhance the profitability of Brazil's oil industry and Petrobras, as the country's state-controlled oil company.
In January 2003, Foster was appointed to serve as the Secretary of Oil, Natural Gas, and Renewable Fuels at the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy. During this time, she also began serving as the President of Petrobras Química SA (Petroquisa), a role which accompanied her appointment as the Director of Investor Relations. She simultaneously served as the Executive Manager of Petrochemicals and Fertilizers, which was affiliated with the Downstream Management of Petrobras. In May 2006, Foster began serving as the President of Petrobras Distribuidora SA, with responsibilities as the Financial Director of the company. In September 2007, she was named as a member and officer of the Executive Board and Gas and Energy. In 2010, she became the first woman to serve in a management role in the company, when she was elected to the executive board of gas and energy.
On February 9, 2012, Foster was elected to serve as a member of the Petrobras Board of Directors and after a nomination by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, she was chosen to take over the helm of the company as the Chief Executive Officer, replacing José Sérgio Gabrielli, who had served as the head of the company for seven years. She was also named a Member of the Executive Board and Member of the Board of Directors of Petroleo Brasileiro SA Petrobras.
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