Oxy CEO Vicki Hollub on Her Career and Company, and Advice to Young Professionals
Vicki Hollub, SPE, is president and CEO of Occidental Petroleum, an international oil and gas exploration and production company and one of the largest US oil and gas companies based on market capitalization. She has been a member of Occidental’s board of directors since 2015. Hollub joined Oxy more than 30 years ago and held management and technical positions with increasing responsibility in the US, Russia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. Most recently, she served as president and COO, overseeing Occidental’s oil and gas, chemical, and midstream operations. Hollub currently serves on the boards of the American Petroleum Institute and Khalifa University for Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi and chairs the US-Colombia Business Council. She holds a BS in mineral engineering from the University of Alabama, where she was named a 2016 Distinguished Engineering Fellow.
Note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity
“There is something to be learned from every person you encounter and every job that you tackle.”
Apart from technical knowledge, what skill has contributed immensely to your success as a CEO?
I am constantly challenging myself to improve. I am a huge fan of Bear Bryant, who coached football at the University of Alabama. He said, it is not the will to win, it is the will to practice and prepare for the game. In other words, it is getting prepared, always doing the most that you can and, at the end of the day if you think you have done all that you can, you need to go back and do a little bit more.
What experience or person contributed the most to your career path?
Rather than one experience or person, I would say it is the collective opportunities and people I have met that have most contributed to my career path. I have been with Occidental for over 30 years and took advantage of every opportunity from working out in the field, on the rigs, and in various parts of the world, and taking on leadership positions along the way. There is something to be learned from every person you encounter and every job that you tackle.
What inspired you to get a degree in a STEM- (science, technology, engineering, math) related industry?
Growing up my first love was music. However, after receiving some feedback from a music instructor, I recognized that to make a living, I would need to do something else. I was 18 at the time and looking into engineering programs when I took a field trip to a drilling rig. All the activity at the rigsite that day spoke to me, and I changed my major to petroleum engineering. I was very fortunate that I had a love of both math and science; it was very much synergy in the end.
OCCIDENTAL'S OIL AND GAS PORTFOLIO
“We were an early adopter of data analytics, and that ability to add statistical models on top of our engineering analysis is another differentiator.”
“In 2016, our total spend per barrel—a metric we use to calculate overhead, operating, and capital cost per barrel of production—fell nearly 30%.”
What is Occidental Petroleum doing differently from other companies in the Permian Basin?
Occidental is the largest operator and oil producer in the Permian Basin, but it’s not only our size that differentiates us. Unlike many of our peers, our Permian portfolio includes both unconventional and conventional acreage. That means our employees have the chance to work on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing projects, as well as in enhanced oil recovery with carbon dioxide and waterfloods. The two disciplines are related but different, and I think our employees enjoy the challenges and synergies created by both.
Our teams also have more than 40 years of experience working the Permian, and know the rock in a way that many Permian newcomers don’t. We have an enormous amount of 3D seismic data for the Permian, which allows us to take a more engineered approach in figuring out the best places to drill and produce. We were an early adopter of data analytics, and that ability to add statistical models on top of our engineering analysis is another differentiator.
Reducing development costs has been vital to success in the current low oil price environment. How has Occidental been successful at driving down costs?
At Occidental, our people are our greatest asset. Our employees are always looking for ways to work more efficiently and to make our business more competitive. They have had a lot of great cost-saving ideas in areas such as subsurface design, drilling, engineering, and integrated planning. In 2016, our total spend per barrel—a metric we use to calculate overhead, operating, and capital cost per barrel of production—fell nearly 30%.
Occidental has a large number of oil and gas assets around the world ranging from the Permian to the Middle East. How has the increased adoption of renewable energy affected how the company plans for the future?
We are an oil and gas company. However, we are always looking for ways to work more efficiently and effectively and have had some success incorporating solar technology in our field operations. We now routinely use solar panels to power some of our monitoring stations in remote areas where it is difficult to connect to a power grid.
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IN THE OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY
“It takes everyone working together, regardless of gender or background, to think differently and generate new ideas that will provide the innovation needed for the industry to succeed.”
How would you define diversity? And what role do you think it plays in the oil and gas industry?
Occidental has always been a diverse company, whether we are talking about gender, culture, or ethnicity, and I think we are a much stronger company as a result. It takes everyone working together, regardless of gender or background, to think differently and generate new ideas that will provide the innovation needed for the industry to succeed.
What do you think of the current gender gap in our industry? Do you have any advice to other industry leaders for increasing the development and retention of women?
The oil and gas industry, like every industry, benefits from diversity and inclusion. Companies need to take steps to ensure all employees have access to growth and development opportunities and that talent identification programs cast a wide net. Our industry also has the opportunity to encourage more women to pursue oil and gas careers through our various STEM-related initiatives and sponsorships.
What stands out as the biggest challenge to creating a more inclusive oil and gas industry?
There are a lot of misconceptions about our industry, ranging from how we do business to the types of technology we use and the people we employ. Our industry needs to do a better job of educating the public and next generation about the positive impact that oil and gas has on the world around us. We also need to make sure that the voices telling those stories fully represent our workforce, which includes people of all ages, genders, and ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
ADVICE TO YOUNG PROFESSIONALS
“The ability to work in a team environment and to be the best professional you can be, even in stressful times, will make you stand out.”
What roles did mentorship play in your professional development? Any tips on how young professionals can find and reach out to mentors?
I have had a lot of mentors throughout my career but also have been a mentor. It is very gratifying to me to help others achieve their own personal career goals and aspirations. So I believe not only having a mentor but being a mentor is really critical to any kind of professional success. The best way to find a mentor is to look for someone who has similar career interests or perhaps is a step or two ahead of you on the ladder, and then ask them to consider mentoring you. Don’t wait for someone to come to you. Be proactive.
What knowledge or skills do you think young professionals need to succeed in today’s oil and gas industry?
We need critical thinkers with new ideas and approaches. Engineering skills are always in demand, but with the digital oil field’s increasingly important role in our industry, we also want employees with technology backgrounds. At Occidental, we look for team players who want to learn and contribute—but who are also always challenging themselves and those around them to improve and take their work to the next level.
Do you have any advice for our readers who are just joining the energy industry?
Oil and gas is a cyclical business so be prepared for the various ups and downs. The ability to work in a team environment and to be the best professional you can be, even in stressful times, will make you stand out. Also, take the time to learn as much as you can, take advantage of every possible opportunity. Say “yes” whenever you can.