Female Head of Petrobras is the ‘Inside Outsider’

As the first female CEO of a major global oil company appointed by Brazil’s first female president, there has been much interest in Maria das Graças Silva Foster. But her acquired role at Petrobras should have come as no surprise. There is often debate as to whether it is best to promote internally or bring in a new face when looking for a chief executive. Foster may well have been an excellent choice because as Joseph Bower at Harvard would say, she is very much an “inside outsider” – and being a women has probably helped her achieve this. There is no doubting her insider knowledge of the intricate workings of the Company. Since starting as an intern after completing a Masters in chemical engineering, her entire career (including a stint as Secretary for Oil, Natural Gas and Renewable Fuels at the Ministry for Mines and Energies) gives Foster intimate knowledge not only of the company but also of the company’s largest financial stakeholder namely, the Brazilian Government. Foster, however, is not an outsider simply because she is a women in a largely man’s world: her Favela upbringing may well have helped give her an outsider’s perspective and this – combined with a no-nonsense approach – has helped mould a leader to take Petrobras forward while balancing the needs of a multitude of stakeholders. Petrobras is encountering challenges not faced by some of the other large oil companies, but expectations are high and we believe that Foster is the one to help Petrobras reach its full potential.


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