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Why We Named Lori Ryerkerk Our 2020 CEO of the Year

The energy industry veteran has had an immediate impact since coming out of retirement in 2019 to take the helm of Irving's $6.3 billion Celanese Corp.
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Photography by Trevor Paulhus

For the first time in D CEO’s history, its CEO of the Year is a woman: Lori Ryerkerk, the top executive at Celanese Corp., a $6.3 billion materials conglomerate based in Irving.

Her gender is the least interesting thing about her.

An energy industry pioneer, Ryerkerk brought with her broad international operations experience when she joined Celanese in 2019. She spent 24 years in various roles at ExxonMobil, starting with a refinery post and working her way through chemicals manufacturing, power generation, supply, economics and planning, and public affairs and government relations—roles that took her across the globe to Europe and Asia.

She then joined Hess Corp., where she oversaw two refineries, 21 terminals, distribution networks, supply, and trading. In 2010, she moved to Shell as regional to lead manufacturing in Europe and Africa, improving the operational performance of all assets during her tenure. Three years later, she moved to global manufacturing at Shell Downstream Inc.

She was six months into her retirement in 2019 when Celanese came calling. Former CEO Mark Rohr knew exactly what he and the board were looking for to replace him as he transitioned to a chairman role. “We were adamant about finding a CEO who would not only follow the aggressive growth trajectory plan laid out, but at the same time, we wanted to find someone who would continue to make the huge strides we had made in improving diversity and inclusion,” he said.

Celanese was one of the first to come out against the Texas State Legislature’s so-called bathroom bill in 2017, and its philanthropic arm was gaining a reputation for its deep community engagement. On this, Rohr and Ryerkerk were aligned; she wanted to expand and grow the company’s D&I and corporate citizenship platforms because she viewed them as an integral part of Celanese’s success.

In our December cover story, former D CEO contributing editor Brandon J. Call (who, alas, has since left journalism to work in a corporate role at Neiman Marcus) gets to the heart of Ryerkerk’s achievements since taking the helm in May 2019. They include an innovative partnership with Social Venture Partner Dallas that won Collaboration of the Year honors in D CEO’s Nonprofit & Corporate Citizenship Awards.

She also has steered Celanese, which ranks on the Fortune 500, through a number of significant business moves—including the sale of an equity stake in Polyplastics for $1.6 billion.

Throughout 2020, as the editors of D CEO were mulling over potential leaders to recognize with our CEO of the Year title, Ryerkerk consistently rose to the top of the list. She represents the new breed of chief executive—an authentic leader who genuinely wants to make a difference. Especially after the chaotic year we’ve all had, she is the kind of CEO who will help propel us into the future.

To read our cover story on Ryerkerk, click here.

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