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Andrew Topf

Andrew Topf

With over a decade of journalistic experience working in newspapers, trade publications and as a mining reporter, Andrew Topf is a seasoned business writer. Andrew also…

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Top 6 Most Powerful Women In Oil And Gas

Top 6 Most Powerful Women In Oil And Gas

When it comes to glass ceilings, there is probably none tougher to crack than the oil and gas industry. For decades the corner office has been the preserve of alpha-male CEOs with a high tolerance for risk.

Today, the maxim still holds true. In Oilprice.com's list of the 12 richest oil and gas tycoons, not one is a woman. Recently though, Vicki Hollub, a 33-year veteran with Occidental Petroleum, made American corporate history by becoming the first female CEO of a major U.S. oil company.

Hollub, 55, will assume assume control of Occidental's global oil and gas business, replacing current chief executive Stephen Chazen who will step down at the 2016 AGM.

“The board selected Vicki based on her strong track record of successfully growing our domestic oil and gas business profitably and efficiently,” Occidental said in a statement announcing her promotion. According to Bloomberg, Hollub was paid $3.66 million in 2014, including a $516,697 salary plus stock options. The Alabama-trained mineral engineer oversaw wells in Texas and other U.S. states that reaped $12 billion. Related: Long-Predicted U.S. Shale Production Collapse May Not Materialize Yet

Much ink has been spilt over why more women haven't cracked the glass ceiling in America, including a new Pew Research report that explores perceptions about women's ability to lead companies. Among the findings: 50 percent of women and 35 percent of men agree that many businesses aren't ready to hire women for top executive positions. Another study drilled down into the backgrounds of 277 CEOs from the largest publicly-traded U.S. and international oil and gas companies. It found that the most likely reason for the dearth of female oil and gas chief executives is the lack of women studying engineering – the most common path to the industry's executive boardrooms. In 2013, only about 13 percent of engineers were female. The good news for women is that the number of CEOs in the industry is expected to increase as more enter the engineering field.

While the 2014 study found that only 1 percent of oil and gas companies surveyed were led by women, a search one year later finds Hollub in good company, with a number of women occupying perhaps not the corner office, but one with a pretty sweet view nonetheless. Following, in no particular order, are women who exert considerable power and influence in the oil and gas industry today:

Mariana Gheorghe, CEO, Petrom.

Ranked 19th in Fortune magazine's 2014 list of most powerful women in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Mariana Gheorghe is considered one of the most influential women in Eastern Europe. The 59-year-old was the first female CEO of Romanian oil and gas group Petrom. After completing degrees in law, economics and corporate finance, Gheorghe worked for the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development form 1993 to 2006, when she took the helm of Petrom. Related: North-American LNG Could Weaken Russia’s Grip On Europe

Ceri Powell, Global Head of Exploration, Royal Dutch Shell.

According to Fortune, Ceri Powell in 2013 became the highest-ranking female executive at Shell when she took charge of the group's global exploration. She is 21st on Fortune's list of most powerful women cited above. Originally from Wales, Powell holds a doctorate in structural geology and joined Shell in 1990. She held numerous positions at Shell in exploration and new business development before undertaking her current post, where she has led new discoveries in Australia, Malaysia, Nigeria, the Gulf of Mexico and Albania, according to Fortune.

Debra Reed, CEO, board chairman, Sempra Energy.

Graduating summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with an undergrad in civil engineering, Reed joined SoCalGas in 1978 and became the company's first female officer 10 years later. As one of 25 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, Reed was recognized as one of the magazine's “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” from 2011 to 2014. Salary.com has Reed pulling in $8.85 million in 2014, including base pay of $1.12 million. Reed also serves on the boards of Halliburton and Caterpillar.

Trudy Curran, senior vice-president, general counsel and corporate secretary, Canadian Oil Sands Ltd.

With a background in securities and corporate finance law, Trudy Curran joined Canadian Oil Sands in 2002 after holding senior positions with EnCana, Canadian Pacific Limited and now-defunct Canadian Airlines. In 2012, Curran received a Scotiabank Corporate Executives Award and was ranked second out of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada, behind No. 1 Amiee Chan, president and CEO of Norsat. Related: Battered Coal Industry Still Boasts A Few Good Opportunities

Catherine Uju Ifejika, chairman and CEO, Brittania-U Limited.


In terms of female representation in the upper echelons of oil and gas, Nigeria may be an outlier. The largest oil producer in Africa is headed by a woman, Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, and is seeing a growing number of female oil industry bosses. One of them is Catherine Uju Ifejika, chairman and chief executive of Brittania U Limited, an oil exploration and production company. After graduating with a law degree, Uju Ifejika took a job as junior counsel with Texaco, then became Company Secretary Public and Government Affairs for West Africa. In 2001, she set up Brittania-U with N10 million (USD$50,251) in severance pay from her former employer and a USD$115,577 loan.

The company is currently suing Chevron over the sale of three oil mining leases, for which Brittania-U paid $765 million in 2013. A recent feature on Uju Ifejika, who is described as one of the richest women in Africa, has the oil tycoon dismissing those who criticize her rise to power despite a lack of background in petroleum engineering: “I’m not a geologist and I have never worked in exploration and production,” she told Fascinating Nigeria. “The only thing I know is how to take something that is nothing and create something out of it that you can see and appreciate … Not being an engineer or a geologist was immaterial. Today I speak the language of the geologist, I can interpret the maps and when they bring in technical things we look at them together – because I was able to rise above my fear level.”

By Andrew Topf of Oilprice.com

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