Born in the poverty-stricken slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a young Maria das Gracas Foster first started making money by collecting cans and bits of scrap metal in order to pay for her school books. As a teenager, Foster often wrote letters to illiterate neighbors to help out her family, all the while steering clear of the local drug gangs. Foster broke the barriers of the corporate ladder when she was hired as an intern at Petrobras, Latin America’s biggest oil company, and in 1978 she became the first female head of the department of engineering. Today 61-year-old Maria das Gracas Silva Foster, former CEO of Petrobras, has an estimated personal net worth of $20 million.
Maria das Gracas Silva Foster was born on August 26, 1953 in southeastern Brazil. When she was eight years old, her family moved to one of the most dangerously notorious slums just outside of Rio de Janeiro. It was overpopulated, destitute and crime-ridden. Many factors lead to its high mortality rate including malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, pollution and drug trafficking which invoked continuous Brazilian security forces monitoring and security checks.
Despite growing up with harsh conditions, Foster was able to persevere and finish her studies. She graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering in 1978. She earned her Master’s degree in Nuclear Engineering from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and in 1999 she received her MBA in Economics from Getulio Vargas Foundation.
Her rise in career at Petrobras first started in 1978 when she began as a mere intern. She was promoted to chemical engineer in 1981 and over the years rose through the ranks in a number of managerial roles in the Gas and Energy, Research and Development, and Transportation departments.
Subsequently, in 1998, Foster was working for the Petrobras department that imported natural gas from Bolivia. During this time, she met Dilma Rousseff (economist and politician who would later become the first female President of Brazil). Foster and Rousseff developed a lifelong friendly professional relationship based on their backing of the leftist Workers Party. This political association was beneficial to both parties as Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was named President of Brazil in 2002 while Rousseff was named the head of the Board of Directors of Petrobras.
For two years, Foster served as both the Executive Secretary of the Federal Government Program for Mobilizing Brazil’s Oil and Gas Industry and the Interministerial Coordinator for the National Program for Biodiesel Production and Use. After her two-year term, Foster returned to Petrobras where she was appointed to serve as the Secretary of Oil, Natural Gas, and Renewable Fuels at the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy in January of 2003. Foster played a huge role in the company as she was was promoted to President of Petrobras and the Director of Investor Relations while simultaneously serving as the de facto head in a number of Petrobras’ departments. And in May, 2006, Foster became the Financial Director for Petrobras.
Ultimately, Foster became CEO of Petrobras in February 2012 due to her hard work, determination as well as nomination from dear friend and President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff. Maria das Gracas Silva Foster shines brightly as the first woman in the world to head a major oil-and-gas company. In April 2012, Time Magazine listed her on the Time 100 List of the most influential people in the work. Foster’s shine did not end there as Forbes Magazine named her 16th most powerful woman in the world in 2014.
In the end, Maria das Gracas da Silva stepped down as CEO and retired after 37 years with Petrobras.
Foster has had a long and successful career with Petrobras resulting in her multi-millionaire status, however, she has not forgotten her hardships growing up in slums. She is happily married and with two adult children. Foster has the luxury of affording anything she wants, yet she chooses to remain humble in her lifestyle. She is living in an apartment in Rio de Janeiro and travels by taxi, rather than an expensive car.