Patricia A. Woertz prefers not to talk about being one of the few women who wielded real power in the testosterone-rich oil industry. She says the issue never came up during her 29 years at Chevron Corp. (CVX ), where she rose to executive vice-president in charge of refining and marketing, a $100 billion business with 30,000 employees and operations in 180 countries. Now, Woertz, 53, is the new president and CEO of Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM ), the alpha male of agribusiness. No woman runs a bigger public company. But please don't ask her about that, either.
It's common these days to hear businesswomen question whether the sacrifices required of the most ambitious executives are really worth it. That was never Pat Woertz. She has long wanted to be a CEO and didn't let herself or anyone else think otherwise. She followed the rules: She sought jobs that gave her a range of experience, she traveled frequently even as she raised three kids, she worked 80-hour weeks, and she would never call any of that a sacrifice. When asked to give career advice to women, Woertz dodges. Success, she says, "turns on performance."
Woertz, who graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1974, started out as an accountant. Three years later Big Oil beckoned. At Chevron she switched jobs every two or three years, trying to get beyond her comfort zone. She worked so intensely that "some people expressed surprise I had kids." After the birth of her eldest daughter, she returned to the office almost immediately. During her second pregnancy, Woertz went into labor during a meeting and drove herself to the hospital. There, the doctor realized she was carrying twins and would require a Caesarean. After that she took a little time off.
Woertz adapted to the macho culture of her chosen company. As she says: "Chevron is tattooed all over me." So leaving wasn't easy (she retired in March). But her children are grown, her marriage is over, and she wanted to take another chance. Depending on who you talk to, Woertz was either never a contender to be CEO at Chevron. Or she dropped off the list after a troubled 2005, which included refining problems following Hurricane Katrina. Or she simply didn't want to wait any longer.
FOCUS ON "BIOPRODUCTS"
Now, Woertz will be running a thriving $36 billion company -- earnings jumped 29% in the most recent quarter -- that considers itself the leader of the new petroleum industry. The board searched for a CEO who would bring a fresh perspective to the company because ADM's focus is on turning crops into more profitable "bioproducts," many of which, including ethanol, would be alternatives to those now made from petroleum.
Woertz is only the eighth chief executive in the company's 104-year history and the first outside the Andreas family to run ADM since 1970. What's more, her predecessor, G. Allen Andreas, 62, will remain chairman. Says Andreas: "I'll be setting the direction and scope of our activities." That has governance types worrying that he may undermine Woertz. She says: "I'm directing Allen where I'd like his help."
Woertz has been described as testy but prefers "impatient" and adds that she practices "a consensus style of management." Her first day at ADM, May 1, Woertz held a town hall meeting. "I told them I'm not interested in making changes quickly," she says. "I'll be asking what people are afraid I'll do and what people are hoping I'll do."
One of Woertz's first bosses told her that having kids would ruin her career. "Get yourself fixed," he said, "and put it on your expense report." At her retirement party one of her kids said: "I'm glad you didn't listen to him."
By Susan Berfield