Sunoco Inc. announced yesterday that it had elected Lynn Laverty Elsenhans, a veteran oil industry executive, as the company's next chief executive officer and president, effective Aug. 8.

Elsenhans replaces CEO and president John G. Drosdick, who turns 65 next month and will be retiring after eight years at the helm. Drosdick will remain as non-executive chairman until Dec. 31.

With Philadelphia-based Sunoco ranked the 56th-largest company on the Fortune 500 list, Elsenhans would become the nation's third-highest-ranking female CEO behind Patricia Wortz of Archer Daniels Midland Co., who is No. 2. Angela Braly, CEO of Wellpoint Inc., is ranked No. 1.

Elsenhans will take over Sunoco at a time of sweeping changes to the oil and petrochemical industries, and as record oil and energy prices are among consumers' biggest worries.

Sunoco's stock has fallen 52 percent this year. On news of Elsenhans' appointment, its shares closed at $34.46, up 63 cents, on the New York Stock Exchange on a day when the major oil stock indices all traded down.

"We're pleased that she is joining us," said Sunoco spokesman Thomas Golembeski. "We're confident that Ms. Elsenhans can build upon Sunoco's track record of success."

Elsenhans, 52, was most recently executive vice president of global manufacturing at Shell Downstream Inc., a subsidiary of Royal Dutch/Shell Group. There she was responsible for Shell's refining and chemical manufacturing operations, which included 40 plants and more than 17,000 employees.

From 2003 to 2005, Elsenhans served concurrently as president of Shell Oil Co. and president and CEO of Shell Oil Products U.S. She was also vice president of refining at Equilon Enterprises L.L.C., and president and CEO of Shell Oil Products East, where she was based in Singapore.

"Sunoco is a great company with a strong portfolio of diverse businesses," Elsenhans said in a statement. She is a graduate of Rice University with a bachelor's degree in applied mathematics and holds an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

Drosdick became Sunoco's chairman and CEO in 2000, after serving as president for four years. He led the company to thrive as one of the country's largest oil refiners.

But Sunoco now faces major pressure because of narrower margins from soaring crude prices.

Sunoco operates five refineries and 4,700 retail sites that sell gas and convenience items, 5,500 miles of crude oil and refined product-owned and operated pipelines and 38 product terminals.

"It's prudent to regularly review and refresh our strategic direction in light of the opportunities presented," Golembeski said. "We anticipate that [Elsenhans] brings a fresh perspective to the company."

Elsenhans becomes the top woman CEO in an industry not known for female chiefs. Sunoco itself was one of the leaders: Deborah M. Fretz is president and CEO of Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P., a separate pipeline company spun off from Sunoco.

Elsenhans' elevation also vaults her onto the nation's elite - and very short - list of female CEOs at any major company. There are currently a dozen female CEOs who run Fortune 500 companies, according to Catalyst Inc., a nonprofit based in New York that works with businesses and professions to expand opportunities for women.

Elsenhans, who now lives in Houston, also joins a very small cadre of female CEOs in the Philadelphia region. Among them were Dorrit J. Bern, formerly president and CEO of Charming Shoppes Inc.; Fretz at Sunoco Logistics Partners; and Carol Ammon, founder of Endo Pharmaceuticals Holdings Inc. in Chadds Ford. All three women were previous winners of the Paradigm Award that is given annually by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce as the region's most prestigious award for businesswomen.

Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or