New Chief of Brazil’s Petrobras, Born in Favela, Picked Up Recyclables in Trash as a Kid

President's chief Maria das Graças Silva Foster Brazil’s state-controlled oil and gas multinational Petrobras, the sixth most profitable company in the world in 2009 and one of the fifty biggest, is going to have a new president. And for the first time, the president will be a woman.

Maria das Graças Silva Foster, presently the director of Gas and Energy at Petrobras, will take over from José Sergio Gabrielli at the beginning of February, according to a note released by the corporation. With the announcement of her appointment, Petrobras stock rose over 3.5%.

Silva Foster, 58, is married and has two children. She has degrees in chemical and nuclear engineering from public universities in Rio de Janeiro, as well as an MBA from Getúlio Vargas, and is a career employee at Petrobras where she started as an intern in 1978.

She has a powerful sponsor and ally: president Dilma Rousseff – they have known each other since 1998. At that time, Dilma was state Secretary of Energy in Rio Grande do Sul and Foster worked in a Petrobras subsidiary on the Brazil-Bolivia gas pipeline.

They worked closely together between 2003 and 2005, when Foster was the secretary of Petroleum and Gas at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and Dilma Rousseff was the minister.

At the end of last year, Foster was one of the few aides who accompanied president Rousseff at meetings in Brussels with European officials on political and economic issues.

Although Foster was born in Minas Gerais, she grew up in a Rio de Janeiro slum and started working at the age of eight as a trash picker, collecting used newspapers, cardboard, bottles and tin cans that she sold to buy school supplies.

Foster’s appointment is considered much more “technical” than political. Just last week, Dilma substituted Aloizio Mercadante, who is the new minister of Education, at Science and Technology with another “technical” appointment: the mathematician Marco Antonio Raupp.

Gabrielli, 62, has headed Petrobras since 2005. He is the longest serving president of the corporation, after being the director of Finances and Investor Relations.

He is from Bahia, where he studied economics and is a professor at the Federal University. He also has a Ph.D. from the University of Boston and studied at the London School of Economics.

Gabrielli is a member of the Workers Party (PT) in Bahia and is expected to occupy a position in the administration of the governor of Bahia, Jacques Wagner.

ABr

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