Petrobras CEO named world’s most powerful female executive

Fortune magazine has selected Maria das Gracas Silva Foster, the head of Brazil’s national oil company, as the most powerful female executive in the world for the second year running, highlighting the rise of Brazil as a global oil producer.

Fortune’s ranking is based on the size and importance of the executive’s company in the global economy, the success and management of the business, the career trajectory of the executive and her social and cultural influence.

Foster is the first woman to run Petroleos Brasileiros, or Petrobras, having taken the reins in February 2012. She began working for Petrobras in the 1980s as a chemical engineer. She later rose to become director of the gas and energy division and CEO of Petrobras Distribuidora.

Speaking at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston in May, Foster, who grew up in the slums of Brazil, said that hard work and perseverance fueled her rise to success.

“It was not easy to get the position of president of Petrobras,” Foster said. “It has been a long story of very hard work and personal sacrifice to the point where I was named number one in Petrobras. What makes me the most proud is having started my career at Petrobras as an undergraduate trainee. I have passed through all the positions in the company to pass to the position of president.”

Foster’s tenure comes as Petrobras seeks to double its production between 2010 and 2020, as the Brazilian government seeks to funds its broad-reaching social programs by development of its recently discovered bountiful offshore reservoirs.

On Monday, the Brazilian government awarded the development of one the largest of these fields, Libra,to a consortium of international companies, in exchange for a nearly $7 billion signing bonus and a production sharing agreement.

Petrobras’ workforce of 82,000 employees is predominantly male, with only 16 percent women, a figure that is relatively competitive with its peers in the industry, Foster said.

“This dream of equality is still a long way from being achieved,” Foster said in May, noting that despite the low number of women, the company is becoming increasingly open to gender to diversity. “Now it has the first woman in command, and the world has not collapsed from it.”

Foster is one of four energy executives who made Fortune’s list of most power women in business. Only two energy executives were on the U.S. list, none in the top 10.

Here are all of the energy executives who made Fortune’s U.S. and world lists: