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Former Halliburton CEO and UH Law Center alumnus Thomas Cruikshank recognizes key role legal education played in successful business career

UH Law Center alumnus Thomas H. Cruikshank

UH Law Center alumnus Thomas H. Cruikshank

Nov. 16, 2021 - UH Law Center alumnus Thomas H. Cruikshank said he often employed his legal training as he guided multinational corporation Halliburton to new heights. Now, at age 90 as he looks back, it's clear that the part-time evening law program at UH served him well as he built his path to becoming the CEO of one of the world's largest providers of products and services to the energy industry.

"A lot of business decisions that involve legal considerations have to be made when a company is operating in 110 countries," said Cruikshank in contemplating the role his legal education from the University of Houston played in his illustrious 50-year business career.

Where it all began

From an early age, Cruikshank knew he wanted to be a Certified Public Accountant. He started out on that path by pursuing an undergraduate degree in economics and business administration at Rice University. While there, he took a course in business law that convinced him a legal education would be an excellent addition to his accounting career plan.

At that time, military service was still mandatory, and so Cruikshank found himself in a position to be drafted. He made up his mind to complete law school first and then fulfill his military service. Next stop on his legal journey was the University of Texas' Law School, until he realized that avenue Just wasn't financially viable. A move back to Houston landed him a day job with the accounting firm Arthur Andersen & Co. and he finished his law classes at UH at night. "I was working all day and going to school at night," said Cruikshank. "I was fortunate at exam time because my exams occurred every other night, so my routine was to work each day and study literally all the night before the exam.

True to his word, after he graduated from law school and qualified for the bar in 1955, Cruikshank entered Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. It was a busy time because he also got married and began attendance at the Navy Supply Corps School in Athens, Georgia before being assigned to the Navy Area Audit Office in Los Angeles.

When his time in the service was done, he made his way back to Houston, in late 1958, to work again for Arthur Andersen & Co. as a manager in the tax department. It was during this time that his legal degree became the center of his career, as he joined Vinson & Elkins as a lawyer on January 2, 1960. While there he performed some services for the construction firm Brown & Root, then a subsidiary of Halliburton for which he later also did work. He went on to join the Halliburton ranks as vice president of corporate development in 1969 - a role that set him on the path toward executive leadership.

Making an impact at Halliburton

During his time at Halliburton, Cruikshank worked closely with the CEO and spent a year a president of one of its subsidiaries. He returned to corporate headquarters in 1981 as President and became CEO himself in 1983, a position he held until his retirement in 1996. He was succeeded by The Honorable Richard (Dick) B. Cheney - who later served as the 46th Vice President of the United States.

During his tenure at Halliburton, Cruikshank recalled that having a legal and ethical perspective was vitally important when making business decisions.

"I felt my original assessment that legal education and experience would be a good supplement to my accounting career was proven as accurate,” he said.

Cruikshank believes the most notable accomplishment of his Halliburton team was adjusting to the economic environment of the 1980s. “Those were difficult years in our industry due to a recession that hit our construction business and a drop in oil prices," he said. "As a result, our employment would drop from 117,000 in late 1981 to 47,000 by 1996." Cruikshank and his team consolidated and restructured the company's many oilfield service units and instituted a much more efficient operating system. It resulted in a substantial improvement in operating profit and a boost in the market price of the stock.

In addition to his time at Halliburton, Cruikshank brought his strong business acumen to the Board of Directors for several high-profile public companies, including The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, The Williams Companies, Inc., Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and more.

Advice for today's law students

One of the most important lessons Cruikshank learned during his practice of law was that it is very much a personal service profession. Client service was a top priority for him, and he always made it a point to return clients' calls as soon as possible to ensure they knew he was there for them. He noted this is particularly important when working for a law firm. If a more structured environment is preferred, then joining a corporate or governmental legal department should be considered. Many attorneys also occupy elected offices.

As Cruikshank looks back, he urges those who wish to follow the legal path to take their oath and obligation seriously, with the ultimate mission of serving the public good and not just their own interests. "The country needs to continue its founding principles of protecting all citizens' rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," he said. “Nothing else can equal their importance."

In December 2022, Cruikshank gave a $500,000 estate gift to UH Law Center. 

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