Who said the Corporate world was lacking of strong female role models? Petrobras is the world’s fifth-largest oil producer, and on Monday February 13th 2012, Maria das Gracas Foster has just been appointed CEO. She thus becomes the first woman to run a top-five oil company. Hard to figure out how Maria das Gracas Foster could have achieved this ascension, from the bottom to the top of Brazilian’s society, without hard work and a strong sense of competition. Definitely a strong “Heroine’s Journey”. An inspiring story, that sheds a different light on one of the BRIC countries’ most powerful female leaders.
All the ingredients of a fairy tale are there, just like in Ursula Burns’s story:
- The ordinary world. Picture one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.
Just like in a Charles Dickens story taking place in Brazil 20th century, you can imagine how Maria das Gracas Foster grew up. She was born in 1950, in a favela, a slum, a part of Rio de Janeiro now known as “Complexo do Alemào”. Valor Economico reported (via The Financial Times) that “she started work at the age of eight collecting waste paper, bottles and aluminium cans to sell to pay for her school things.” I could not imagine reading Christine Lagarde’s or any European CEO’s bio and discovering such an extra-ordinary life’s story, of transformation and meritocracy.
- The obstacles. Class, poverty, gender and…domestic violence.
“I experienced domestic violence during my childhood and the difficulties of life. I have always worked hard.”
- The Call for Adventure. No Prince Charming, but hard studies, scientific studies. Maria went to an Engineering School, she holds a degree in Chemical and Nuclear Engineering and on top of that, a doctorate of economics.
- Her secret weapon? Her strong character, cast in iron, forged like a sword by self-discipline and hard work. “The Iron Lady of Oil”.
- The Fairy God Mother. One of her mentor is for sure Dilma Roussef, Brazil’s President. Dilma Roussef chaired Petrobras’ board when Lula was Brazil’s president.
- The Long Journey with many ordeals and trials. Her nomination, marks the peak of a 30 years career at Petrobras. Maria das Graças Foster entered Petrobras in 1978 as an intern (just like Ursual Burns with Xerox…). She had been director of the Gas and Energy sector since 2007. Not a magic wand, just hard work and persistence.
“I worked my way up the corporate ladder, one step after the other in this company. I didn’t suddenly wake up and realized I was Director of Gas & Energy sector.”
- The Reward? Achievement. Academic, business, political, achievements and the highest rank in Brazil’s corporations. She will be the second-most powerful woman in Brazil, after the president. Not bad for a favela’s kid…
- Secret for her success? I would say it is humor and wisdom, as she declared recently to the Financial Times, in “Petrobras’s new CEO: secrets of her success”
“I don’t remember that I have a husband”…
But also her wisdom, about work and office time and family time, whatever the moment may be:
“Dedicate yourself to that moment.”
Next post will be an analysis of Maria Foster’s Leadership and communication styles, among the 12 dimensions SPM model. But you may have already guessed…
Further readings, 3 stories around the heroine’s journey in the corporate world…
- A Fairy Tale Story in The Corporate World, the story of Ursula Burns at Xerox. Read it here.
- Sylvia Ann Hewlett and the Heroine’s Journey. Read it here.
- Arianna Huffington ‘s story: Arianna and the Labyrinth of dilemna. Read it here.