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State Street CEO-designate says law school plagiarism was a ‘very big mistake’

Ronald P. O’Hanley.Handout

In a career spanning more than three decades, Ronald P. O’Hanley III has climbed up the ranks of several prestigious financial firms, and this week he capped that ascent when he was named the next chief executive of State Street Corp., a Boston investment and banking giant that oversees trillions of dollars in retirement funds.

While his resume is familiar to many in the business world, one piece of it is not.

In 1983, O’Hanley withdrew from Vanderbilt University Law School after admitting to plagiarism as editor-in-chief of the Vanderbilt Law Review in his third year. It was a mistake O’Hanley, 60, now says he deeply regrets.


“It happened 35 years ago. I was a student. I made a very big mistake. I disappointed a lot of people,’’ he said Wednesday.

O’Hanley said he disclosed the plagiarism and the law school withdrawal to State Street. He joined the company in 2015 as chief of State Street’s investment arm. He will take the helm of the company after Jay Hooley steps down as CEO in 2018.

“We were aware of this matter and support Ron unequivocally,’’ State Street spokeswoman Hannah Grove said in a statement. “His track record as a corporate leader and his achievements both at State Street and in his previous roles speak for themselves.”

After leaving Vanderbilt, O’Hanley went on to earn an MBA at Harvard Business School and ran a large department at the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. He later joined Mellon Bank, which is now part of Bank of New York Mellon Corp., and then Fidelity Investments, the Boston mutual fund company.

O’Hanley said that on some resumes he used over the years, he listed having “attended” Vanderbilt, which is located in Nashville. But in at least two instances found by the Globe, summaries of his experience said he had completed his law degree.


A 1997 press release announcing that O’Hanley had been named chief operating officer of Mellon Global Asset Management Group said he was a graduate of Syracuse University, Vanderbilt University School of Law, and Harvard Business School.

A biography for his staff profile as a faculty member at the University of Edinburgh Business School until recently called him an alumnus of Vanderbilt. The website was recently updated.

Fidelity spokesman Vincent Loporchio declined to comment on whether O’Hanley had disclosed the law school matter to the firm. O’Hanley worked at Fidelity from 2010 to 2014 as president of asset management, originally reporting directly to then-chairman Edward C. “Ned” Johnson III.

A Bank of New York Mellon spokeswoman said she had no comment. McKinsey could not be immediately reached for comment.

Even as O’Hanley’s career advanced, there has been little mention of the plagiarism incident, to the surprise of some classmates. A May 1983 National Law Journal story said O’Hanley plagiarized parts of an article on the legal protection known as double jeopardy written by an attorney who had attended Vanderbilt as an undergraduate.

O’Hanley had been scheduled that spring to start a clerkship with George Edwards, chief judge of the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals. O’Hanley withdrew from Vanderbilt in April that year, according to the report, after hiring a lawyer and holding talks with the law school dean and university counsel.

In a 2006 speech at Vanderbilt, one of O’Hanley’s classmates, Paul Atkins — a commissioner with the Securities and Exchange Commission at the time — cited the matter without naming O’Hanley. He called it a “wrenching, blatant case of plagiarism.


Sacha Pfeiffer and Todd Wallack of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Beth Healy can be reached at beth.healy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.