WHO IS José Dutra

José Dutra (1957-2015) was a former president and CEO of Brazilian oil company, Petrobrás. A geologist by training, he was also a politician, spending eight years as a senator in the Brazilian Congress before becoming head of Petrobrás, and a two-year term as president of Brazil's Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers Party) afterwards.


Born in Rio de Janeiro, José Dutra earned his degree in geology from the Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro in 1979. The following year, he began his 15-year career as a geologist by working at Geologia Sondangens and then at Petrobrás Mineradora. He then joined Companhia Vale do Rio Doce.

While living and working in the state of Sergipe, Dutra became involved in the labor movement and in politics. From 1988 to 1990 he was the national director of the Centro Unico de Trabalhadores, and between 1989 and 1994 he served as president of the Miners Union of the State of Sergipe. Dutra also became a member of the Workers Party, running for office in Sergipe in 1990 and serving as president of the state's Workers Party Regional Board. In 1994, the people of Sergipe elected him to the Brazilian legislature for the 1995–2003 period.

Brazil's newly elected President, Luiz Inacio da Silva, appointed Dutra president and CEO of Petrobrás in 2003: The government owned a majority share of the company and had the right to appoint its management. Although Dutra had little corporate management experience and a reputation as a leftist, his pragmatic talk and financially sound approach soon won him converts. He promised to respect the company's existing strategies, insisting that Petrobrás would continue a four-year, $32 billion investment plan set in motion under the previous leadership and that he would seek private participation in the company. "Petrobrás is not a government agency," he told the Gazeta Mercantil in 2003. "It is the biggest Brazilian company, which must yield results and will be administered as such."

Dutra's main challenge as head of Petrobrás was to balance the company's need to remain profitable and efficient while at the same time staying true to its vision of social responsibility. Under Dutra, it continually sought to expand explorations and production of oil and petroleum products; consolidated its position in the natural gas and energy market, and selectively expanded internationally, acquiring firms such as Perez Companc. But it also raised its corporate governance standards, and invested $1.3 billion in accident prevention, bringing its pipeline system up-to-date, installing Environmental Defense Centers, and acquiring environmental certification for all units of the company.

Soon, Petrobrás was seen to be one of the world's best-run state oil companies, and investors who avoided Petrobrás during Dutra's early days were scrambling to purchase its bonds. Dutra received several awards.

Subsequent Career

Dutra left his position at Petrobrás in 2005, but after a failed senatorial bid in 2006, he returned as president of Petrobrás from 2007-2009. He departed to re-enter politics, and in 2010 he was elected to a two-year term as president of the Workers Party. In February 2012, he returned once more to the company as corporate affairs director, remaining untouched by money-laundering scandals that engulfed other members of top management in 2014. 

He took a leave of absence for medical reasons, and died of cancer in 2015, aged 58.