A dual citizen of the U.S. and Brazil, Sylvia J. Kerrigan (née Sydow) studied English, philosophy, and political economy at Southwestern, where she graduated cum laude in 1986. She went on to attend the University of Texas Law School, clerking for Texas Supreme Court Justice Eugene Cook. After graduating from law school, she joined the firm of Clann, Bell, and Murphy, practicing international corporate law, maritime law, insurance coverage, and complex civil litigation until 1995.

During the next 22 years, Kerrigan served variously as the executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary at Marathon Oil Corporation. She remained a proactive advocate and example of ethical corporate management. Under her leadership, Marathon’s legal department received numerous awards for excellence in business, compliance, and regulatory affairs as well as community service and pro bono work. According to Amanda McMillian ’95, Kerrigan “served as a thought leader for the energy industry and the legal profession through her service.” Southwestern Board of Trustees Chair Stephen Tipps recalls, “I first met Sylvia 15 or 20 years ago, when I was the head of the appellate litigation practice at my law firm, Baker Botts LLP, and Sylvia was the head of litigation at Marathon Oil Corporation, one of Baker Botts’s leading clients. … I quickly came to realize that she was an accomplished professional who was very well regarded in the Houston legal and business communities.” In 2017, Kerrigan was named a Top 10 Exploration and Production Executive by the Houston Business Journal. She also received the Ernest E. Smith Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her contributions to the energy industry.

In 2000–2002, Marathon granted Kerrigan a leave of absence to serve at the United Nations Security Council’s Commission d’Indemnisation (UNCC) in Geneva, Switzerland, where she led an interdisciplinary team who evaluated the unprecedented losses sustained by multiple international energy companies that had directly resulted from Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Matt Kerrigan recalls, “Sylvia was a key leader during her service at the U.N. She was grateful for the opportunity to be a woman leader in the Middle East during an era when that was both rare and uniquely challenging.”

Whereas most executives focus on travel and hobbies when they retire, Kerrigan has instead continued to invest her significant intellectual capabilities and energy into bettering the State of Texas and to enhance educational opportunities for young professionals as they launch into their careers. Shortly after her retirement from Marathon Oil in 2017, Sylvia was selected as the executive director of the University of Texas’s Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business, a program that unifies the key legal, financial, and governmental disciplines required to prepare and sustain the world’s best energy professional decision-makers. Colleague Sam Susser describes Kerrigan as “driven,” “thoughtful,” and “a true professional” who is “able to look out over the horizon and anticipate challenges.” McMillian adds, “Sylvia’s long-term dedication to professional excellence and leadership—and the enormous time commitment that has come with it—exemplify how to live the core values of Southwestern. I’ve been blessed to benefit from her leadership, mentoring, and friendship.” 

Kerrigan has served on the board of directors for public policy organizations such as

the American Leadership Forum, chaired the American Petroleum Institute General Committee, and co-chaired the United Way Law Initiative. She is also on three energy boards, including Alta Mesa Resources, Nine Point Energy, and Team Industrial Services. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees at both Southwestern and the University of Texas School of Law, and she is the chair of Southwestern’s Academic Affairs Committee.

Kerrigan and her husband, Matt, reside in Houston and Austin with their Great Danes Pixie and Merry, who are both gainfully employed at Texas Children’s Hospital as therapy dogs. For her exceptional service to the energy industry and her exceptional civic engagement, the Southwestern University Alumni Association is proud to present Sylvia J. Kerrigan with a 2018 Distinguished Professional Award.

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