How Maria das Gracas Silva Foster
Rose From Poverty & Became The 1st
Female CEO of Petrobras

Maria das Gracas Silva Foster is the 1st ever woman to become CEO of a multi-million oil-and-gas company. She was included in Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world in 2012. That same year, Forbes Magazine declared her as the 20th most powerful woman in the world.

The same year and the year after that, she was Fortune Magazine's most powerful woman in business outside the United States. 

maria das gracas is the first female ceo of petrobras

Maria das Gracas Silva Foster is the first female CEO of Petrobras, the largest company in the Southern Hemisphere

Humble Beginnings

But Maria das Gracas Silva Foster was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She was born to a poor family, and lived in shanties most of her young life. Not only did she grow up in repugnant surroundings, her family also had to deal with crimes, domestic violence, drug trafficking, diseases, and pollution. She lived in unsanitary conditions, yet that didn't stop her mother from giving her all the love she needed to become a happy growing child.

At a very young age Maria would collect recyclable trash that littered the street in exchange for money to pay for her school books. She had always expected that one day she'd stop attending school because of how poor they were, but admitted to never shying away from work. 

This uncertainty about the future made her work harder for her studies. Eventually, she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1978. The following year, she earned her Master’s degree in nuclear engineering, and in 1999, she received her MBA in economics. 

Starting Low

Maria became an intern at Petrobras in 1978, and was hired in 1981 as a chemical engineer, after which she became a manager at the Leopoldo Miguez de Mello Research and Development Center and the Transportadora Brasileira do Gasoduto Bolivia-Brasil. 

Maria das Gracas Silva Foster
Photo by Financial Times / CC BY 2.0

Maria das Gracas Silva Foster sitting with women
of value in finance (second from right)

Rise to Power and Prominence

Before Dilma Rousseff even became president of Brazil (she was elected in 2010), Maria was already close friends with her, both already serving the government and their country in smaller roles. When Pres. Rousseff became president, Maria was appointed as one of the new leader's top aides in Brasilia. 

Maria worked as the Executive Secretary of the Federal Government Program for PROMINP. She was also the National Program for Biodiesel Production and Use's Interministerial coordinator. 

She was appointed as the Secretary of Oil, Natural Gas, and Renewable Fuels in 2003. In 2012, she became a member of the Petrobras Board of Directors and was chosen to be the CEO after a nomination from Dilma Rousseff herself. 

You can tell that this woman is a force to be reckoned with, they say that all Brazilian women are. But Maria das Gracas Silva Foster is a league of her own. She was able to succeed and thrive in a place not all men or women were able to bravely tread long enough—the side of business. And she has her guts, her perseverance, and her good business sense to thank for all that.

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"If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants." Isaac Newton

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