In his 11 months at the helm of Petróleo Brasileiro SA, Brazil’s state-run oil firm, Aldemir Bendine has picked up an unflattering nickname inside the company: “TQQ.”
In Portuguese that stands for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday—the three days a week that Mr. Bendine typically shows up at the troubled oil giant’s headquarters.
The implication, according to people familiar with the matter, is that Mr. Bendine spends too much time in São Paulo, where he lives, and not enough at the energy giant’s nerve center in Rio. It also reflects mounting frustration among Petrobras executives, board members and investors, some of whom say the 52-year-old executive hasn’t done enough in his first year to tackle the company’s myriad problems.
“The results have been below expectations in my opinion,” says Adriano Pires, a longtime oil consultant in Rio. “The initiatives that have been taken are very small considering the challenges that Petrobras faces.”
President Dilma Rousseff chose Mr. Bendine for the top job last February to help clean up Petrobras following a massive corruption scandal at the firm. A career government banker, Mr. Bendine succeeded in getting some of the company’s most pressing financial issues in order. Petrobras wrote off some $20 billion in costs related to a massive corruption scandal and began reporting its financial earnings on time after months of delays.
“Like Brazil, [the outlook for Petrobras in 2016] is terrible,” said Sergio Lazzarini, an economist at Brazilian business school Insper. “All the indicators at Petrobras are in bad shape. The market is in bad shape, with the price of oil. It is a real disaster.”
Petrobras didn’t respond to questions about Mr. Bendine’s leadership and declined to make him available for an interview.
At a recent round table with journalists, Mr. Bendine acknowledged the company has serious challenges, but he said this year’s fiscal situation is “totally manageable.”
“I know that the company still generates a lot of anxiety,” he added. “But what we have is a sensation of being on the right path.”
Some of the carping may be simply a response to an outsider taking over the country’s most prominent corporation. Mr. Lazzarini and others concede that Mr. Bendine took on a difficult task, and that top oil executives weren’t banging down the door to take over a company steeped in multiple crises.
“He is what they’ve got at the moment,” Mr. Lazzarini said. “At least he’s pursuing the right direction—to refocus the company.”
The company remains the most indebted oil firm in the world, with total debt of 506.58 billion Brazilian reais at the end of its third quarter, up 44% from the end of 2014 in local-currency terms. Shares of Petrobras have fallen 40% since Mr. Bendine became chief executive. The company reported a net loss of 3.76 billion reais ($97.3 million) in the third quarter.
Mr. Bendine has pledged to divest more than $15 billion in assets by the end of 2016 in a bid to pay down debt, nearly $24 billion of which is coming due in the next two years. But many in the industry have expressed skepticism that Petrobras can reach this goal, given low oil prices and the fact that other international oil firms also are selling assets.
Mr. Bendine’s lack of industry experience has sparked grumbling by some Petrobras veterans that he doesn’t have the company’s long-term interests at heart. He has clashed with board members on several occasions, and in October slammed the door after walking out on the board mid-meeting, according to people familiar with the matter. The company has had three chairmen since Mr. Bendine took over.
His people skills also were questioned during a November strike by oil platform workers that dragged on for several weeks, costing the company more than two million barrels of oil production. The workers also won a raise.
Then there is the TQQ problem. Mr. Bendine’s presence two days a week in Petrobras’ São Paulo office have raised concerns he isn’t fully engaged. “He doesn’t seem to want to have a career in the oil business,” a senior Petrobras executive said. “It is a part-time job for him.”
Mr. Bendine is viewed by many as a loyal government soldier brought aboard to stabilize Petrobras at a time when few private-sector experts would have touched the firm. His boss, Ms. Rousseff is currently facing the early stages of impeachment proceedings. Some senior oil industry figures say that if Ms. Rousseff goes, Mr. Bendine won’t be far behind.
Petrobras has been rocked by one of the worst corruption scandals in Brazil’s history. Authorities allege that for at least a decade some of the nation’s largest construction companies paid bribes to secure billions of dollars’ worth of contracts, kicking back a portion to high-ranking Petrobras employees and politicians.
The massive graft probe has netted more than a hundred arrests, several convictions and plea bargains, and rocked the highest levels of Brazilian business and government. Petrobras’ woes have weighed on Brazil’s economy, which is in the midst of its worst recession in decades.
Petrobras contends it is a victim of the scheme and that it is cooperating with authorities.