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Honorary doctorate for influential lawyer

Honorary doctorate for influential lawyer

A New Zealand woman who played a key role in overhauling the corporate governance structure of one of the world's largest multinational companies is to receive an honorary doctorate from Victoria University of Wellington.

Judith Hanratty, who last year retired as Company Secretary and Counsel to the Board of BP plc, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the University's graduation ceremonies in May.

Miss Hanratty was born in Wellington and educated at Chilton St James School in Lower Hutt and St Hilda's Collegiate School in Dunedin. She then attended Victoria University and graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and later a Master of Laws with Honours in 1968. She has been admitted as a Barrister by the Inner Temple in London, the State of Victoria and the High Courts of New Zealand and Australia.

Miss Hanratty's 28-year association with BP began in 1975 when she became the Group’s principal legal counsel for New Zealand and the South Pacific. Before leaving New Zealand, she was heavily involved in corporate, commercial and administrative law, and served on the boards of the New Zealand Employers' Federation and the organisation that was established to create Telecom New Zealand and the related postal and banking organisations.

She was invited by BP to go to Britain in 1986 and was closely involved throughout the next eighteen months in the Group’s acquisition of Standard Oil of Ohio, at the time one of the largest transactions on the New York Stock Exchange. She was also involved in the sale of the British Government’s investment in BP, the subsequent application to the Monopolies and Merger Commission to buy back the shareholding in BP acquired by the Kuwait Investment Office and the acquisition by BP of Britoil.

Following these exceptional transactions, her interests turned to the world of insurance in which she maintains a continuing interest as a nominee of the Bank of England on the Council of Lloyd’s of London and as a Non Executive Director of Partner Re, a major international reinsurance group. From 1988 to 1994, she served as Chairman and Chief Executive of The Tanker Insurance Company Limited. She led a number of studies into the insurance of high severity low frequency events and into the early development of ‘alternative risk transfer’ instruments to utilise the wider capacity of the capital markets in the management of risk. As the insurance adviser to BP she reformed the Group’s approach to risk transfer. She was awarded an OBE for her services to the oil and gas industry.

In 1994 following BP's decision to split the roles of Chairman and Chief Executive, Miss Hanratty was asked to become Company Secretary and Counsel to the Board, a position independent of the Group’s executive management and with responsibility to guide the Board through the processes such a fundamental organisational change required. She introduced a highly distinctive governance model that defines with rigour the roles of the board and its chairman and those of the chief executive officer and the executive staff. This model established a system of accountabilities and boundaries as the mechanism by which authority passes through this corporation of more than 100,000 employees operating in some 100 countries. The clarity of roles and responsibility that underpin the model, laid the foundation for sustaining the core values of integrity, respect, dignity and the striving for mutual advantage and a contribution to human progress which have been distinctive features of the Group’s approach to business.

In addition to her work with BP, Miss Hanratty has served on a number of British regulatory boards including, the Competition Commission, and the Takeover Panel. In her corporate life, in addition to her insurance interests, she is a director of Partnerships UK, a specialist in public private partnerships, the British Standards Group, and Charles Taylor Consulting. She is also a member of the Board of the UK Gas and Electricity Markets Authority.

Miss Hanratty retains a strong interest in education. A former member of the Council of Victoria University from 1977-86, she was for many years its Treasurer. She is Chairman of the Commonwealth Institute, which recently launched the Centre for Commonwealth Education at Cambridge University. Housed in the University's School of Education, the Centre will provide a unique international forum for bringing together and sharing the best in education policy and practice across the Commonwealth countries. She is also Chairman of the College of Law, the largest provider of vocational legal education and training in Europe, and an Honorary Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Pat Walsh said Miss Hanratty had played a significant role in business, education and law, both in New Zealand and in Britain, and was highly deserving of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

"Miss Hanratty's work as Company Secretary at BP, in developing a clear and workable model of corporate governance, was ahead of its time. The model, which clearly defined the roles of the board and the company's management, has been copied widely since the events at Enron and Worldcom in the United States and Parmalat in Italy showed how important it is to set clear boundaries and values for managers. Not surprisingly, BP has received the highest rating yet awarded by the corporate governance rating division of Standard & Poors.

“She is an exemplar of the Victoria University graduate – having taken her Law degrees and applied them in creative and critical ways, exercising leadership and superb communications skills.

"Her career and achievements have been characterised by a meticulous approach that demonstrates deep integrity and clarity of thought. Her willingness to think outside conventional wisdom and to make bold recommendations on the basis of well-researched ideas has allowed the organisations she has been involved with to capture leading edge positions."

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