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Petrobras names woman engineer as CEO

Rio De Janeiro, January 24, 2012

Brazilian oil giant Petrobras plans to name veteran engineer Maria das Graças Foster as chief executive, promoting a respected technocrat from the company's ranks in a bid to turn around its lackluster performance in recent years.

Rio de Janeiro-based Petrobras, Latin America's largest publicly traded company, said on Monday that its board will vote on Feb. 9 to promote Foster, who is currently natural gas and power director.

She would replace Jose Sergio Gabrielli, an economist who has led the company since 2005 but had little oil industry experience beforehand.

Gabrielli, a former university professor and long-time member of the ruling Workers' Party, plans to pursue a role in politics, government sources told Reuters. His departure from Petrobras has been rumored for months.

The shake-up at Petrobras may also affect other company directors, said sources close to the Petrobras board who were not authorized to speak publicly.

The change in leadership comes a crucial time for the company, which is scrambling to tap tens of billions of barrels of newly discovered reserves in ultradeep waters off Brazil's southern coast. It holds the world's biggest oil spending budget, worth more than $224 billion over the next half-decade.

"This move is likely to bring a more technical and less political style of management to Petrobras," said Adriano Pires, head of the Brazilian Infrastructure Center, an energy think tank in Rio.

"She knows petroleum; she knows Petrobras, and she would be the first CEO in recent memory to come up from within the company's own ranks."

The technical challenges of deepwater drilling, coupled with a tight global market for offshore oil rigs, petroleum engineers and subsea equipment, have left Petrobras struggling to meet production targets in recent years.

Last year, it pumped 2.61 million barrels of oil and natural gas equivalent a day, the vast majority in Brazil, nearly 1 percent less than in 2010. In spite of Petrobras's huge spending plan, its domestic output was 4 percent below target in 2011.

The company hopes to more than double its worldwide output to 6.42 million barrels of oil equivalent a day by 2020, putting it among world's top producers, with Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Foster, age 58, holds degrees in chemical and nuclear engineering and business administration, and started at Petrobras as an intern in 1978.

She would be the first woman to run Petrobras, and a rare CEO who has climbed the ranks from within the company after a series of leaders were appointed from outside.

Brazilian commentators have likened Foster to Dilma Rousseff, the country's first female president. A former energy minister, Rousseff is a long-time confidant of Foster.

Over the years, Foster has held several positions within Petrobras, including leading its efforts to develop biodiesel fuels and helping Brazil build gas-fired power plants. She was also instrumental in building a natural gas pipeline between Bolivia and Brazil in the 1990s.

Petrobras shares rose following the announcement, trading up 2.2 percent to 24.74 reais by 2:51 p.m. local time. New York-traded ADR shares rose $1.01 to $30.83.

"This move makes sense," said analyst Osmar Camilo, who tracks Petrobras at Link Corretora in São Paulo.

"Foster is a proven engineer with decades of experience, and she has a very close relationship with Brazil's government and the president," he added.-Reuters

 




Tags: CEO | Brazil | woman | Petrobras |

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