Occidental ‘Lifer’ Vicki Hollub to Be First Female Oil Chief

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Occidental Petroleum Corp. named 33-year company veteran Vicki Hollub to become the first female chief executive officer of a major U.S. oil company.

Hollub, 55, will assume control of Occidental’s oil and natural gas business worldwide as an interim step to succeeding current CEO Stephen Chazen “after a thorough transition period,” the Houston-based company said in a statement Tuesday. Occidental said in March that Chazen, 68, would step down at the 2016 annual meeting.

Hollub is a University of Alabama-trained mineral engineer who’s seen the company evolve from the global conglomerate assembled by the late Armand Hammer to a slimmed-down explorer focused on the U.S. Great Plains, a handful of Persian Gulf countries and Latin America.

Occidental, which spun off its California oil business last year, has a market value of about $61 billion. The shares rose 1.6 percent to $79.84 at 12:20 p.m. in New York.

Hollub is a familiar name, though not a well-known personality to analysts who follow the company.

“She’s a lifer at Oxy so she certainly knows the company well,” Roger Read, an analyst at Wells Fargo Securities LLC, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “But they tend to keep management protected over there so it’s not as if we’ve had a lot of interaction with her.”

Permian Expansion

Before her elevation on Tuesday, Hollub oversaw wells in Texas and other U.S. states that reaped $12 billion in sales last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. She also helped lead the company’s expansion in the Permian Basin over the past decade, a region that’s become one of Occidental’s primary profit engines.

During a conference call on Wednesday to discuss first-quarter earnings, Hollub said the company is experimenting with new proppants used to hold open microscopic fissures in oil-soaked rocks. The goal is to expand the surface area of proppants touching the rock to increase flow, she said, and the company probably will have definitive results in three to six months.

In a May 2014 interview in the company’s Houston headquarters, Hollub discussed the challenges of using carbon dioxide to revive fading Texas oilfields by flooding wells with just enough pressure to push out trapped crude without destroying the rocks.

Strong Record

“The board selected Vicki based on her strong track record of successfully growing our domestic oil and gas business profitably and efficiently,” Chazen said in the statement.

Hollub joined Occidental in 1982 when the company acquired her then-employer, Cities Services. In 2014, Occidental paid her $3.66 million in total compensation, including a $519,697 salary and stock awards valued at $2.7 million.

Brazilian engineer Maria das Gracas Foster was the first female to lead a global oil company, named CEO of state-run giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA in 2012. She was forced to resign amid a graft scandal this year, though she herself is not under investigation.

Other female CEOs in oil-related companies have included Lynn Elsenhans, who ran refiner Sunoco Inc. from 2008 to 2012. Stacy Schusterman was CEO of closely held Samson Resources Co., founded by her father, before the family sold it to a group led by KKR & Co. in 2011. She now runs Samson Energy Co., which held onto certain properties after the sale.

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