First Woman CEO of a Major U.S. Oil Company Says UA Education and Hard Work Key to Success
Life can take some interesting twists and turns.
Some of those turns can lead to dead ends. Others can lead to success that can launch a person into a legend.
In 2016, Bessemer native and University of Alabama graduate Vicki Hollub, became the first woman CEO of a major U.S. oil and gas company, Occidental Petroleum.
She was also selected as one of Fortune’s 2018 Most Powerful Women, a list compiled by the magazine’s editors that examines the size and importance of the woman’s business in the global economy, the health and direction of the business, the arch of the woman’s career and her social and culture influence.
In 2019, Hollub mesmerized the oil industry when Occidental acquired Anadarko Petroleum Corp., making Occidental the third-largest U.S. oil company. Some in the industry considered it the boldest mergers and acquisitions move in more than 30 years.
Those aren’t accomplishments she ever imagined she would achieve when she started school at the University. Her goals were grand, but they were in a totally different direction.
She attributes much of her success to the academic and practical equipping and opportunities that built her, step-by-step.
“I love the University, I always have,” Hollub said. “It’s been an important part of my life. It was an important part of getting me to where I am today. I’m just fortunate and grateful.
“I would say the most important thing is to take advantage of opportunities. One of the things I did with Oxy (Occidental Petroleum) is I never said no to anything. Any time I had an opportunity to do a different job, move to a different location, see a different kind of project, I took advantage of it. It really broadened me.”
Hollub grew up in a family of Bama fans. Her parents were huge fans of head football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who they later got to meet outside of the Ferguson Center. So attending UA for college was always the obvious and only choice for her.
Making all-state as a French horn player at McAdory High School, she joined the Million Dollar Band and declared music as her major at UA, dreaming of one day playing for the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra or the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
But when a music professor laid out a sobering plan of what it would take for her to make those dreams reality, she decided to try her hand at something different, mineral engineering.
“When I got into mineral engineering and got the opportunity to go out into a coal mine, I got traumatized by that because it’s underground, closed in, cool and wet,” she said. “I didn’t like that so much.
“But then I had the opportunity later in that course to go out to a drilling rig that was drilling. They were drilling a deep well. It was so amazing and exciting that it shaped my view of what I wanted to be. I knew I wanted to go into the oil industry and be a petroleum engineer.”
In her second year as a mineral engineering student, a professor in the department, Dr. Thomas Simpson, told her about a scholarship and encouraged her to apply.
“He came to me and said, ‘now Vicki, you have to go apply for this, you have an opportunity and a chance for this,’ which I did,” she said. “I received the scholarship which was very fortunate for us because our family was struggling to be middle class, so my parents really appreciated the help with the funds.”
Hollub graduated in 1981 and was recruited by a fellow Bama alum to work for an oil company called City Service in Jackson, Mississippi. A year later, the company was bought by Occidental Petroleum.
Before becoming president of CEO of Occidental, she held a variety of positions within the company, including roles in Russia, Venezuela and Ecuador.
“Graduating from The University of Alabama instilled in me a passion to win,” she said. “I think a lot of Alabama graduates have that, and I look for that now in employees. That passion to be successful, that passion to help your team succeed and win.
“I took that with me throughout my whole career, and it still works for me today.”
Hollub’s grit was on full display as she positioned Occidental to acquire Anadarko. When a fierce competition ensued with a company five times larger, Hollub sought additional investments to up the ante. In the end, Hollub’s offer was too much for the oil giant and Occidental acquired Anadarko in August 2019. That same year, she made Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.
Attending the right school. Hard work. Taking advantage of every opportunity. Having the right mentors.
Hollub said this is the formula that forged her, and she highly recommends that all current and future UA students adhere to if they want to make the most out of their college education and career.
“I’m happy to be an ambassador for the University,” she said. “Because I believe in it. Every student matters, and I think the University takes a look at that.”