Vicki Hollub

Occidental Petroleum

Editor's note: This profile is part of Hart Energy's 50th anniversary Hall of Fame series honoring industry pioneers of the past 50 years and the Agents of Change (ACEs) who are leading the energy sector into the future.

Vicki Hollub ACE

Between marching in the band at McAdory High School in McCalla, Ala., to playing in the Million Dollar Band while earning a bachelor’s of science degree in mineral engineering with the petroleum option at the University of Alabama, Vicki Hollub found a way to find success.

That success continued at Occidental Petroleum, where she began as an operations manager in 1981, running EOR operations in the Permian Basin. In May 2016, she took on the mantle of CEO with the retirement of the legendary Stephen Chazen.

And while accepting the mantle from Chazen might have seemed like a daunting task at the time, Hollub has taken it on in apparent stride: growing the company through acquisitions that, while criticized at the time, now pay dividends for the firm and its shareholders, and being among the first corporate leaders in the energy space to make a major commitment to the energy transition.

Three years into her tenure as CEO, Hollub led Occidental in a bidding war with Chevron for Anadarko Petroleum. Occidental snatched the diversified E&P from Chevron’s thrall with a deal that included $38 billion in cash and the assumption of $46 billion in debt, overwhelming the supermajor’s $48 billion offer. But the victory was initially bittersweet.

The acquisition added a portfolio of international assets, including a prime position in the Permian Basin, to Occidental’s footprint. But energy shareholders’ animosity toward corporate growth was reaching a fever pitch, and analysts and investors widely criticized Hollub and her team for chasing Anadarko with “a great degree of hubris and management ego.” Activist investor Carl Ichan filed suit to stop the “misguided” deal, alleged Occidental’s leadership was in over its heads, making “numerous blunders” that “might continue to trip over their feet if the board is not strengthened.”

In the space of four years that included the pandemic’s industry shakedown, Hollub has led Occidental to a $58.8 billion market capitalization and the company is on track to pay off the acquisition in five years.

Warren Buffett’s massive investment in Occidental, which boosted its ability to fund the Anadarko purchase, gave Berkshire Hathaway a 24% stake in the company. Amid growing M&A fervor, the “Oracle of Omaha” appears content with Hollub’s leadership.

“We will not be making any offer for Occidental,” he told the Economic Times. “We have got the right management.”

Hollub’s vision encompasses more than megadeals that largely define the genesis of the largest oil and gas companies. She is also at the forefront of the “net zero oil” movement, advocating for carbon capture utilization and sequestration (CCUS) and direct air capture (DAC). Indeed, she’s done more than talk about it.

Not only has Occidental invested billions of dollars in the research and enterprises to further the technology, Hollub’s commitment has attracted the attention and at least tacit approval of the Biden administration. In early August, Occidental secured one of two key U.S. Department of Energy grants to develop a hub for DAC in Kleberg County, Texas.

Less than a week later, Hollub agreed to a $1.1 billion deal to buy Carbon Engineering, Occidental’s technology partner on the government-backed project as well other DAC projects designed to produce emissions-free crude oil.

Hollub was named Energy Intelligence’s Energy Executive of the Year, the first woman to earn the accolade in the award’s 27 years. 

“Vicki has been undeterred by the challenges of carbon capture and has instead set about building a thriving business of scale to drive its costs down,” said Raja Sidawi, Chairman and CEO of Energy Intelligence. “This approach sets Oxy apart from its independent E&P peers and even outflanks larger integrated rivals in this space.”

Deon Daugherty, Editor-in-Chief

Click here to see the rest of Hart Energy's Agents of Change in Energy.