Exclusive interview with Maria das Graças Silva Foster, Petrobras CEO

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По Elizabeth Gasiorowski Denis
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Maria das Graças Silva Foster is the CEO of Petrobras. In a career that has spanned 31 years, Ms. Foster has served in numerous roles including Gas and Energy Director, CEO and Financial Director of Petrobras Distribuidora. In February 2012, she was elected member of the Petrobras Board of Directors and was chosen to take over the helm of the company.

She also sits on the boards of Petrobras Distribuidora, Petrobras Biocombustível, and is the President of the Board of Directors of Petrobras Transporte, Petrobras Gas and IBP (Brazilian Oil, Natural Gas and Biofuels Institute).

From 2003 to 2005, Ms. Graças Foster was Secretary for Oil, Natural Gas and Renewable Fuels at the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy. During this period, by presidential decree, she became National Executive Secretary of the federal government programme for mobilizing Brazil’s oil and gas industry and Interministerial Coordinator for the national programme for biodiesel production and use.

Maria das Graças Silva Foster

Ms. Graças Foster sits on numerous boards and has received many prestigious awards, notably the Medalha da Inconfidência, awarded to persons who have made an outstanding contribution to social, cultural and economic development. She has been made a Knight Commander of both the Admiralty Order of Merit and the Rio Branco Order of the Brazilian External Affairs Ministry. In April 2009, she received the Tiradentes Medal, the highest decoration of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Rio de Janeiro. In 2008, she was named Executive of the Year by the Institute of Brazilian Finance Executives.

Ms. Graças Foster graduated in chemical engineering from Fluminense Federal University, then completed her Master’s at Rio de Janeiro Federal University. She also has an MBA in economics from Fundação Getúlio Vargas.

ISO Focus+ : Petrobras recently came top in a ranking of the 50 most valuable brands in Latin America and is the 4th largest energy company in the world. From the project stage to construction, commissioning and acquisition of equipment and oil refineries, how important are International Standards to a company of this scale ? What part do they play in day-to-day operations ?

Maria das Graças Silva Foster : Applying International Standards is of strategic importance to ensure competitiveness in our business, since this means that projects, equipment manufacture and construction, assembly and commissioning of new onshore and offshore facilities are in line with international practices, aimed at ensuring quality, operational efficiency and compliance with health, safety and environmental requirements.

Petrobras CEO, Maria das Graças Silva Foster, visits a platform in the Campos Basin.

In day-to-day operations, Petrobras applies International Standards in the various development phases for projects relating to oil and gas production facilities, transport and refining, such as drilling and production platforms, terrestrial and undersea pipelines, storage ships and terminals, refineries, thermal power plants, petrochemical plants, fertilizer plants and biodiesel production plants. They are also applied in the operation, maintenance, inspection and assessment of facilities. These standards cover project requirements, equipment manufacture, construction and assembly, commissioning, quality management, operational security, health, the environment, social responsibility and risk analysis, as well as other aspects.

ISO Focus+ : How does Petrobras apply ISO 9001 in quality management ? How does this standard contribute to making company operations more efficient ?

Maria das Graças Silva Foster : In an oil products market that is growing at an annual rate of 4 %, the Petrobras 2012-2016 Business and Management Plan earmarks a significant part of its investments to satisfying product quality requirements, especially gasoline and diesel.

The ISO 9001 model is a benchmark in quality management and allowed us to identify the interfaces of the company’s vertical processes, enhancing the integration of corporate areas and helping improve the quality of inputs that pass through the company’s value chain up to delivery of the final product, with better and more sustainable results.

The adoption of ISO 9001 was a strategic decision aimed at improving our operations, cutting costs and boosting customer satisfaction. Applying ISO 9001 helped increase asset efficiency, improve processes, enhance flexibility and strengthen our commitment to safety and the environment. Furthermore, factors such as the predictability of the characteristics of products and services, workforce awareness of quality aspects and increased standardization are helping the company achieve results and satisfy market requirements.

ISO Focus+ : Petrobras emphasizes its commitment to environmental, economic and social sustainability and is listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Could you give us more information on the company’s environmental commitments and, in particular, describe how International Standards such as ISO 14001 (environmental management) help in this ?

Maria das Graças Silva Foster : Petrobras’ performance is closely linked to its deep commitment to the environment, the safety of its operations and facilities and the health of its workforce. This commitment is expressed in the company’s mission statement: “To act in a safe and profitable manner, with social and environmental responsibility, on the domestic and international markets, providing products and services that satisfy the needs of our customers and contribute to the development of Brazil and the countries in which we operate.”

To do this, the company links productive processes to health, safety and environment (HSE) corporate guidelines approved by the Executive Board and embodying modern HSE management practices focused on the company’s activities. The guidelines form the basis of the entire HSE management system developed for Petrobras Units, which are certified to Brazilian Standards NBR ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001.

At present, in pursuit of continual improvement in HSE management, Petrobras is working on a new challenge aimed at obtaining a single certification to NBR ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 for the entire company. This will lead to greater dynamism and homogeneity in our productive processes, making them safer, healthier and more sustainable.

ISO Focus+ : Why did Petrobras participate in drafting social responsibility standard ISO 26000 ? How is the company applying this standard ?

Maria das Graças Silva Foster : Acting with social and environmental responsibility is one of the strategic corporate pillars at Petrobras, together with growth and profitability. This commitment is expressed in our mission statement and corporate vision, and determines how the company exercises its activities. We saw the opportunity to participate in drafting the International Standard on social responsibility as strategic.

We worked alongside the international working group for ISO 26000 from the initial meeting in 2005 and were invited by Associação Brasileira de Normas Técnicas (ABNT), ISO member for Brazil, to represent Brazilian industry in 2006. The company consolidated a successful partnership with the ABNT and the Brazilian delegation for disseminating the content of the standard by holding 15 seminars in all regions of the country. After ISO 26000 was released, in December 2010, a further seven seminars were held to present the standard to industry federations in the main capital cities of Brazil. The principles and themes discussed internationally in relation to ISO 26000 contributed to the formulation of the company’s policies and guidelines on social responsibility. In addition, Petrobras has been promoting a series of training courses, talks and workshops on the standard for its workforce.

ISO Focus+ : Petrobras specialists are members of a number of ISO technical committees, such as ISO/TC 67, Materials, equipment and offshore structures for petroleum, petrochemical and natural gas industries, and ISO/TC 28, Petroleum products and lubricants. Tell us a little more about Petrobras’ participation in international standardization. How important is this participation to the company ?

Maria das Graças Silva Foster : Petrobras participates in ISO, the leading organization for international technical standardization, with 249 representatives on technical committees, subcommittees and working groups. This is done through ABNT, in which Petrobras employees act as representatives of Brazil.

The company also participates in the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), another international organization for technical standardization, with 15 representatives, along similar lines to its participation in ISO. We also participate in the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the international technical regulations body for maritime issues, with 23 representatives. And we have 14 representatives on the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers/Standards Committee (OGP/SC), responsible for assisting ISO/TC 67 by drafting basic texts for international technical standards in the petroleum industry.

Our participation in these organizations involves preparing International Standards and regulations jointly with representatives from other countries and companies. These standards and regulations are used extensively on the international market, where Petrobras works with technical requirements that satisfy quality, safety, health, environmental, deadline, cost and local content standards.

ISO Focus+ : You are one of the few women who are at the helm of one of the largest companies in the world. At the Women Leaders’ Forum held during Rio+20, you encouraged women in management positions to be aware of, and take action to combat, prejudice. You also pointed out that the oil sector is naturally dominated by men, stating that 84 % of the Petrobras Holding workforce are men and only 16 % women. We could say the same about standardization ! In your opinion, how would gender diversity benefit business ? How can we change our viewpoint and involve women more ?

Maria das Graças Silva Foster : With a great deal of determination, women have been making conquests in the world of work. In Brazil, 60 % of the workforce are women. In 1980, this figure was only 38 %. We managers, especially women, in companies where we play a leadership role, must be constantly aware of, and combat, all and any kind of prejudice. If companies accept prejudice, this constitutes a destructive administrative act, leading to the loss of competitiveness and resulting in other consequences damaging to the development of the business itself. In a highly competitive global market there is no room for gender bias.

One of Petrobras’ 10 values, defined in the Strategic Plan for 2020, is respect for human and cultural diversity based on three principles : combatting discrimination, promoting equality of opportunity, and respecting differences. Petrobras participates in the gender equality programme launched by the federal government’s special women’s policy agency. In 2010, we adhered to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, a UN document listing seven principles giving companies practical guidelines for promoting gender equality in the workplace, in the market and in the community.

About Petrobras

Petrobras is a Brazilian integrated energy company with over a million shareholders, operating in the oil, natural gas, and biofuels sectors in 27 countries.

As the largest deep water operator in the world (22 % share of worldwide operations), Petrobras’ pre-salt oil and gas discoveries opened up a new exploration frontier with the potential to put Brazil among the world’s leaders in terms of oil and gas reserves. Petrobras currently has proven reserves of some 16 billion barrels of oil (SPE criteria), and this figure could double over the next few years as new discoveries are made.

Petrobras is one of the few companies with output of over 2.6 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (boed). Its strategic plan forecasts a rise in domestic and foreign output to 5.7 million boed by 2020, an increase of 115 %.

The global public offering launched in September 2010 raised the company’s capital to BRL 205 billion, funding earmarked for projects covered by the 2012-2016 Business and Management Plan and amounting to USD 236.5 billion. In 2011, the company’s net profit reached USD 20 billion.

Today, Petrobras’ system has around 84 000 employees. According to projections, by 2014, around a million direct and indirect jobs will be created in Brazil in the domestic oil and gas sector.

Maria das Graças Silva Foster
Maria das Graças Silva Foster

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Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis

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