Vicki Hollub is a big fan of Bear Bryant, the legendary football coach famous for a remarkable winning record at the University of Alabama. She says one of his sayings influenced her tremendously and is perhaps what drove her to the top job at Occidental Petroleum (OXY) where she is now CEO and the first woman to head up a major U.S. oil company. She is also part of the small, elite group of female CEOs running a Fortune 500 company.
Speaking with Fortune’s Susie Gharib, Hollub quotes Bryant’s life-changing message: “It’s not the will to win, it’s the will to practice and prepare for the game.” Hollub took that lesson to mean, “It’s getting prepared, always doing the most that you can. Just practice. Persevere.” She adds, “If you approach every day like that, when a crisis comes, you’re prepared for it.”
And when crisis did hit, she was prepared. She was tapped to be CEO the same year that the oil industry was hit with its worst downturn in decades. As crude prices plunged, Hollub drastically cut costs and completed the exit from non-core operations in the Middle East and North Africa. And in a bold, contrarian move, she pledged not to lay off a single person working at Occidental—the first time the company decided against layoffs in a downturn.
“Many of my leadership team had been through layoffs in the past and we saw how damaging they could be,” explains Hollub. “Damaging not only from the standpoint that you lose talent when that happens, but also the fact that it’s very demotivating to an organization to do that.”
Her advice to the young male and female executives she is mentoring on how to get ahead? “To do every possible opportunity, every job you get the chance to do. But also to be open and try to think about things differently. To make sure you never get caught up in the routine of doing things the way you’ve always done it.”