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Honorary Graduands Orations - Winter 2011


Mr Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen,
John Armitt is an engineer of great stature.
I am not just referring to his height – which I understand is six foot four inches.
When those planning the 2012 Olympics needed an engineer to Chair the Olympic Delivery Authority – to ensure that all the facilities for this great global event would be delivered on time, to specification, and to budget – it is not surprising that they lifted the phone to ring John Armitt.
John hasn’t done things the traditional way.

Even as a teenager he sought his own path in life.

As he has said “I had a load of O levels, but I was cheesed off with school.”

So instead of taking A levels, John enrolled at Portsmouth College of Technology, where he completed a diploma in civil engineering, and worked as he studied.

So like a good engineer, he spent his early career hammering pegs into the ground!

This practical experience helped shape him as an engineer and a leader.

Even today, he prefers dealing with projects on the ground to sitting in an office, a hands on approach many managers could benefit from adopting.

From Portsmouth, John joined Laing, where he became a chartered engineer, studying as he worked.  It wasn’t long before John’s days of peg hammering were replaced with managing people - though even there he had to shape some square pegs to fit round holes!

At Laing, and later at Costain and Union Railways, John led major engineering projects for three decades.

John’s career is a list of Britain’s most complex and important engineering and infrastructure challenges.
Whether the building of Sizewell B, the second Severn Bridge,  Nuclear and Oil power stations, or the reconstruction of the Falklands Islands Airport after the South Atlantic Campaign - If it has been complicated, sensitive and required leadership to get finished on time, John has built it.
Anyone who has enjoyed a Eurostar journey to Paris or Brussels, has John’s engineering planning skills to thank for the smooth rapid journey under London and across Kent.

After two and a half decades at Laing, John became Chief Executive of the Costain Group, which he converted in short order from a company with annual loss of more than sixty million pounds a year into a healthy profit.
Unsurprisingly, it occurred to Government that John might be as adept at managing political problems as he was at making businesses work.
So it was that John Armitt became Chief Executive of Railtrack, and later Network Rail.

It is sometimes said that all political careers end in tears.
Well, politicians have got nothing on British rail executives.
Many thought the Railtrack job was the ultimate poisoned chalice, combining responsibility for a Rail network suffering from decades of under investment with an exposure during crises that has frequently led to the decapitation of rail executives.
So it is a tribute to John’s effort that he left Network Rail with his, and his Company’s, reputation greatly enhanced.
It didn’t stop with an enhanced reputation, though.
Fulfilling the ambition of thousands of schoolboys, John left Network Rail with a Locomotive named after him.
The John Armitt is a Class 43 High speed power car, a good match for a high speed power engineer!

As we can see, John has a vaunted reputation for turning around failing organisations, managing complex and costly infrastructure, and transforming intractable failures into success stories.
So I’m not sure whether we University Engineers should have been delighted or disturbed when John became Chairman of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research council! 
Joking aside, UK universities are fortunate to have someone with such insight and stature in such an important post.
At a time when “Impact” is often debated in Universities, John Armitt has personified it during his career.

After all, John has demonstrated how, in his own words:
“We don't exist without engineering.

It underpins our ability to live a civilised life.

The great satisfaction that you get from engineering is that you know you are making a contribution in a meaningful way.”

John has certainly done just that.
I nevertheless predict that his greatest achievement is still to come – namely a 2012 Olympics of which the nation can be justly proud, providing an engineering legacy that will help regenerate London and a human legacy that will help thousands of young people lead healthier, happier lives.

Mr Chancellor, on behalf of the Council, I present to you for admission to the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, John Armitt, CBE.

This oration was written by Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, WMG 


We are here to honour John Sexton, currently the President of NYU (New York University), but truly, as Whittington described Sir Thomas More in 1520, ‘a man of gentleness, lowliness, and affability, and as time requires, a man of marvellous mirth and pastimes and sometime of steadfast gravity — a man for all seasons.’

John Sexton was born in 1942 to an Irish Catholic family. He was educated at Brooklyn Prep (a Jesuit high school), and holds a BA in History, an MA in Comparative Religion and a PhD in the history of American religion from Fordham University. He also holds a JD magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

Those are the bare facts but they hardly do justice to what is best described as an extraordinary life. From 1966-1975, John taught religion at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. From 1961 to 1975, he also coached the debate team at St. Brendan's High School, a Catholic girls' school in Brooklyn, leading the team to five national championships and numerous invitational titles. When he was 30, a group of friends from these debating circles pushed him to apply to law school. Five universities rejected him (including NYU) before he commenced his distinguished legal career. Before finally arriving at NYU Law School as a faculty member in 1981, John served as a Law Clerk in the United States Supreme Court, and in the United States Court of Appeals.

During his time at NYU Law School John published numerous significant texts, including Redefining the Supreme Court's Role: A Theory of Managing the Federal Judicial Process and A Managerial Theory of the Supreme Court's Responsibilities: An Empirical Study. These two texts were the centerpiece of a national debate over the creation of a new intermediate court between, on the one hand, the Supreme Court of the United States and, on the other hand, the state supreme courts and the United States courts of appeals.

John was made Dean of NYU Law School in 1988. During his tenure as Dean, NYU’s School of Law rose to number five in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of law schools. From January 1, 2003 to January 1, 2007, he also served as the Chairman of the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; in 2006, he served as chair of the Federal Reserve System's Council of Chairs.

Finally, I come to John’s tenure as President of NYU. Appointed in 2002 he has galvanized that institution. For example, during his Presidency, NYU has gone from a ranking of no 27 in 2002 in donations to US Colleges, to no.11 in 2010. But he also remains a jobbing President. For example, John believes that teaching is a sacred vocation and, as if to prove the point, he still teaches four courses every year. But most importantly of all, he can, I think, legitimately lay claim to being the single most visionary university leader in the world today. In particular, he has pursued the goal of creating what he calls a ‘global network University’ with boundless energy and singular verve. His vision is of a University which will span all continents and allow students to circulate in such a way that they can genuinely say that, though they belong to one institution, they are truly citizens of the world. And he is well on his way to achieving that goal. NYU now works from 16 study abroad sites and with the opening last year of the first of two portal campuses, NYU Abu Dhabi, it is beginning to take on a truly global character, suffused with the vaulting idealism and steely pragmatism and warmth of welcome – including the famous Sexton bear hug - for which John is known around the world.

But New York University, like John, is also born out of and will continue to carry the character and heritage of New York. In the end John illustrates perfectly the saying that you can take the man out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the man. From his fanatical passion for baseball – John teaches a course called “Baseball as a Road to God” and he even wears a No 42 (the number of Jackie Robinson) on his academic gown - to his extraordinary New York address book, John is truly a man for all seasons, just as long as they are all experienced – at least for part of the time (the rest of the time he is on aeroplanes) - in New York.

This oration was written by Professor Nigel Thrift, Vice-Chancellor  


Alan Garner is a writer whose work resists simplistic categorisation. He is the author of highly successful novels, several of which have been translated into televisions films and series, and among the many awards he has won are the Guardian Award and the Carnegie Medal for The Owl Service in 1968, the Phoenix Award for a collection of short stories, The Stone Book Quartet in 1998 and the Karl Edward Wagner Award for lifetime achievement in 2003. In 2001 he was awarded an OBE for services to literature.

In the 1970s he was best-known as a children’s writer, a label he has never been happy with, just as labelling him a fantasy writer is also restrictive, for his work is unique in that it crosses boundaries, and so is accessible both to adults and to children in different ways. His novels combine elements of the fantastic with hard realism, as can be seen in one of his earliest books, Elidor  (1965) that was adapted into a six part television series. In this novel, a group of children wandering through a slum demolition area of post-war Manchester find a pathway into an alternative world.  The safety of that world is under threat, and the children are caught up in a rescue mission, being entrusted to guard the treasures of Elidor. In this world, those treasures are old bits of wood and metal, unrecognisable, but though they try to hide them, the forces of darkness seek them out. The chapter where the children gradually realise that the evil beings from Elidor are finding ways of crossing into their world is a marvellously gripping piece of writing. Mum and Dad cannot understand why all the electrical appliances in the house start to go haywire, but the children are all too aware:

At two o’clock in the morning the food mixer burned itself out. But the washing machine rumbled on. The children and their parents stared clear-eyed at the dark.

There are three main themes that run through Alan Garner’s work, and all are discernible from his early work to his more recent novel, Thursbitch (2003). First, is a passionate involvement with place, the place of his birth, where he has a spent his whole life, rural Cheshire. The second is his belief that human beings are connected somehow across time and space, so that the character who is gradually succumbing to a wasting disease in Thursbitch is bound in an inexplicable way to an eighteenth century packman who in turn is linked to primeval worshippers in the valley where all their lives coincide.

And the third great theme is man’s eternal struggle against evil, a theme that Alan Garner explores through mythology and legend. His award-winning novel, The Owl Service (1968) – my personal favourite, that I reread every few years!- draws upon the story of the faithless Blodeuwedd, from the Welsh Mabinogion, and such is his commitment to detail that he learned Welsh in order to research the novel fully.

Garner’s language deserves special mention, for as some critics have pointed out, he is a novelist whose writing moves easily from the realistic to the poetic. In The Stone Book Quartet described by a reviewer as having ‘a symphonic quality unique in fiction’, he draws upon the Cheshire dialect of his childhood to create the characters who are based his own family’s history as local craftsmen. Asked in an interview about how hard he found it to combine the energy of the local dialect with Standard English, he replied modestly that it took him until well past 30 and that he was still not quite there yet. Garner points out also that his English is the English used by the great medieval poet who wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight , yet remembers having his mouth washed out with soap by a teacher when he was only five years old as an attempt to stop him ‘talking broad’.

Alan Garner was born in Cheshire in 1934, and after Manchester Grammar School went to Oxford where he read classics. After his National Service, he began writing his first novel at the age of 22, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. He takes his own time to write, preferring to work slowly and with the utmost care to ensure that the final production meets his exacting standards. He continues to live in Cheshire, in the wonderfully named Toad Hall, and in 2006 he and his wife finalised the creation of The Blackden Trust, an educational trust that aims to foster research into heritage and the environment. Passionately committed to education and to the preservation of the rural heritage, Alan Garner nevertheless acknowledges that for him as writer, the source of his inspiration is not so much intellectual but ‘a Mystery, in the medieval sense.’ Refusing also the label of intellectual, he states as his credo for his lifetime’s work: ‘for me, I still have to insist on the vision, the ‘dream’, as the ‘fons et origo’ of all.

Alan Garner’s visionary writing has resulted in some of the most memorable novels of the last few decades and we are privileged to welcome him to Warwick.

This oration was written by Professor Susan Bassnett, Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies    


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Ladies and Gentleman.

Mrs Indra Nooyi is Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo, which has the world's largest portfolio of billion-dollar food and beverage brands, including 19 different product lines that each generate more than $1 billion in annual retail sales in markets spanning more than 200 countries. With nearly $60 billion in revenue, PepsiCo employs 285,000 people worldwide.

The path Mrs Nooyi has taken to achieve such success is far from usual.
Mrs Nooyi received a Bachelor’s degree from Madras Christian College in 1974, balancing her studies with a passion for playing not only cricket but lead guitar in an all-woman rock band!
After completing an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta in 1976, Mrs Nooyi  begun her professional career in India with Johnson & Johnson and textile firm Mettur Beardsell as a product manager.  With two years of experience under her belt, she took the then radical move to leave India and to travel to the United States.

There she attended Yale School of Management and attained a master’s degree in Public and Private Management, funded by endless graveyard shifts as a student dormitory receptionist.

A number of strategic management positions followed in Asea Brown Boveri, a Zurich- based industrials company, Motorola and Boston Consulting Group.

Joining PepsiCo in 1994 as chief strategist, Mrs Nooyi’s ability to make tough decisions and envision new directions was immediately apparent and she has gone on to enjoy a long and varied career at PepsiCo, serving as President and Chief Financial Officer, and Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Development.  She was named President and CEO on 1st October 2006 and assumed the role of Chair on 2nd May 2007.

Highly respected and widely regarded for her astute leadership by her peers and the corporate community alike, it comes as no surprise that Mrs Nooyi has been the chief architect of the company's global strategy for more than a decade and leads PepsiCo's multi-year growth strategy, Performance with Purpose, focused on delivering sustainable growth by investing in a healthier future for people and our planet.
Under her direction, with an insistence on healthier foods, social responsibility, global awareness, and the best possible business practices for both employees and consumers, the future is more than bright.

As a result of this responsible and innovative strategy, PepsiCo is listed on the Dow Jones North America Sustainability Index and Dow Jones World Sustainability Index.

A multi-faceted individual with a truly international and selfless outlook, Mrs Nooyi has been chairwoman of the U.S.-India Business Council, and serves on the board of that institution, as well as the boards of The Peterson Institute for International Economics, the International Rescue Committee and even the U.S. Soccer Federation. She is also a Successor Fellow of Yale Corporation and was appointed to the U.S.-India CEO Forum by the Obama Administration.
In 2007, she received the Government of India’s  Padma Bhushan Award in recognition of her distinguished service to her homeland.

Mrs Nooyi is also a great patron of the arts. She has been awarded the Barnard Medal of Distinction by the prestigious all-female institution, Barnard College part of Columbia University, serves on the board of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

It is clearly evident why, between 2006 and 2009, Fortune Magazine named named her number one on its annual ranking of Most Powerful Women in business, and why Forbes magazine last year ranked her the sixth most powerful woman in the world - a true accolade to her ambition and expertise.

The University of Warwick is extremely proud to be able to honour Mrs Indra Nooyi in this way and it is unfortunate that she cannot be at today’s ceremony. Her Honorary Degree will be conferred at a later date.

This oration was written by Professor Mark Taylor, Dean of Warwick Business School.