Corporate Secretary and Chief Governance Officer, Chevron Corporation
Fueling Up for the Future
Lydia Beebe always wanted to “be from California”. The summer of 1977, with the ink barely dry on her law degree from the University of Kansas, she packed up and headed west. She didn’t stop until she hit San Francisco. “At that time, equal employment was big and I thought a woman in a big company would just zoom to the top. I settled in at Chevron, now the world’s second-largest oil company.” She was right. Eventually she would become corporate secretary and the first woman elected as an officer in its 127-year history.
She came to The City without a job and almost no contacts, and started taking a Bar review class. One day, she had lunch with a cousin who'd arrived a month before from Louisville. A computer programmer, the cousin had just transferred to Chevron in San Francisco. Over lunch, Lydia asked how to apply for a job at Chevron. “The next thing I knew, an HR staffer took us both to lunch and it was the most amazing experience." Three weeks after that, she was asked back for a second interview and offered a job.
After working in the land division and government affairs area, Lydia decided she wanted to be a tax lawyer. "I thought I'd be well-suited to it because in the oil industry there are many areas where public policy and tax laws intersect. There was more of the regulatory and legislative aspect that I enjoy. Another part was that at Chevron, the tax lawyers were more independent and did more of their own work, thus less reliant on outside counsel. I thought I'd like that.”
Her first stop was to meet with Chevron’s general tax counsel. She told him of her interest in joining his team. “Well, that would be nice,” he said, “but you don’t have a master’s degree in tax and we don’t hire people here to be tax lawyers without one. But you could go right across the alley to Golden Gate and get one there. They have a great program.”
“I never considered anywhere else,” she recalls. “I said, ‘Fine.'” The LLM Taxation degree program offered by the Golden Gate School of Law wasn’t in operation then, so Lydia pursued an MBA in Taxation. The decision proved beneficial years later when she was being considered for the position of corporate secretary.
“For years I regretted that decision. I was in the tax department and all these other people had LLMs, but I did not. I was sure I’d made a terrible mistake. But when I was under consideration for the corporate secretary job I used that MBA to my advantage because it gave the impression - right or wrong - that I had broader finance knowledge. I actually had taken a few broad finance courses working on my MBA.” But that would be another fifteen years in the future.
Throughout her 34-year career with Chevron, Beebe has witnessed many changes. In 1995 she was named Chevron’s first female executive officer. Today she is one of three corporate officers who are women. She has worked to help women find their places at the table in corporate America. Lydia has been on the board of the Professional Business Women of California (PBWC) and remains on its advisory board. Chevron was one of the group’s early financial sponsors, but the company never sent any women to its conferences until Lydia came along.
“Once Lydia got involved Chevron went from sending zero women to sending 600 women a year,” said Ruth Stergiou, a former executive director of PBWC, which hosts leadership programs and networking opportunities for women. Beebe also spearheaded a program to teach high school girls skills for success and to meet role models. “Lydia has extraordinary tenacity and staying power,” Stergiou says. “She has a sustained ability to focus and to really drill down. You don’t get anything past Lydia. She’s also generous and supportive, and that’s not always the case with people who get to the top.”
She received distinguished alumna awards from GGU and the University of Kansas School of Law. She also has received the founder’s award for exceptional business leadership from the Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment, and the “Breakthrough” award from the PBWC. She is a founding executive sponsor of the Chevron’s Women’s Network. Every year since 1999, the San Francisco Business Times has named her as one of the “most influential businesswomen in the Bay Area.”
Of the years she served as a GGU Trustee, she says, “The thing that kept me on the board for nine years was the caliber of people with whom I met and served. I have some great friends from that, people whom I genuinely admire. I wanted to support the board chairman so I reluctantly agreed to join the search committee to land the new president, which proved to be a great success. I’m happy to see how successful the school is.”
Like most Golden Gate alumni, her MBA program helped her take the next step in her career. “I went back to Golden Gate once or twice when I was moving up in the tax world because I was assigned to different areas, I started out doing federal taxation. But later, I managed excise and state income taxes, and California has worldwide unitary tax and franchise tax status; that was nothing that I’d ever studied in law school or in my tax courses. So I went back to Golden Gate for a semester and took a unitary income tax class. It was, once again, exactly what I needed to know. It got through the concept, the principles, and the pragmatic application part.”
“I now have the best of both worlds,” she says, “a job I love and life in what I consider to be the most beautiful city in the country.”