A chat with H. Marshall Sonenshine ’85
Finance Through the Aperture of Law
H. Marshall Sonenshine ’85 is chairman and managing partner of Sonenshine Partners, a New York-based investment banking firm, which has completed billions of dollars in M&A and restructuring deals in a broad range of industries worldwide. Previously, Sonenshine was a partner in Wolfensohn & Co., the merger and acquisition boutique acquired by Bankers Trust and later Deutsche Bank. Before joining Wolfensohn, he worked at Salomon Brothers, where he handled corporate finance and M&A assignments.
Did you plan on practicing law after you graduated?
I began with a bias in favor of practicing law because that’s what I came from. My father was a very prominent criminal defense lawyer and my mother a very accomplished legal aid lawyer. But my interests have always included business, international affairs, and financial markets. I loved the seminars that Dean Clark taught on Theory of the Corporation, and Hal Scott on Banking Regulation. Those really opened pathways of understanding about how corporate and financial markets are organized.
How has Harvard Law School influenced your career?
From the start of my career as a banker, I was building on the first principles I learned at HLS concerning corporate, securities, tax and banking matters; contracts; negotiation; international transactions; and general business judgment. I was inspired by the scope of great minds on the law school faculty. When two of our first-year section professors, Ben Kaplan and Clyde Ferguson, both brilliant and beloved teachers, sadly took ill, the faculty members who came in to substitute were similarly first-rate teachers, similarly intellectual giants: Phil Areeda and Abram Chayes. I remember feeling a sense of awe about the faculty, a sense that has never left me in the quarter century since.
As an investment banker, what sort of deals do you do?
Our firm represents Fortune 500 and middle-market companies in corporate merger and acquisition restructuring, and other financial transactions. That means working on complex financial transactions, but also negotiating on behalf of clients, which is a core discipline of deal making and investment banking. Another great influence was Professor Roger Fisher, for whom I worked after taking his seminar on Negotiation.
Outside of your business life, what inspires you?
I’m very much a family person. That’s an important foundation in my life, as is giving back. For almost 15 years now I’ve served on the board of the International Center of Photography, which is a major center for teaching and exhibition of photojournalism and other works of photography. I am also the former vice chairman of Arts Connection, which teaches art and music in the New York City public schools. I’ve served the annual fund of my undergraduate college, Brown, and have maintained my ties to HLS through alumni leadership programs, co-chairing my 20th reunion gift committee and so forth. I have an enormous sense of pride in having come from Harvard Law School.
If a law school student were to ask you for advice, what might you say?
The law school experience and the careers it inspires are rich and varied. I would advise students today to appreciate the incredibly broad and rich set of issues and ideas that law school covers, and the opportunities that it can launch. That’s a fancy way of advising students not to follow what they think is a herd mentality to where law school is “supposed” to lead. It can lead to lots of interesting things, and it is an incredibly rich curriculum and launching pad.