Meet Sarah A. Strunk, considered one of the Best Lawyers in America, she is the Chair of the Board of Directors of Fennemore Craig, a leading Mountain West business law firm, a multi awarded woman , speaker, philanthropist and wife.
Who is Sarah Strunk?
I am the Chair of the Board of Directors of Fennemore Craig. I practice in the area of business and finance law, with an emphasis on mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, securities compliance and public-private partnerships
Tell us more about your family, How were you as a kid?
I was one of eight children and the oldest girl. As a child, I was inspired to become an attorney after watching episodes of "Perry Mason." I always thought it was great that he got people to confess on the stand.
You have a B.A. (Bachelor of Arts), Magna cum laude, at Wichita State University but also you have a J.D. (a Juris Doctorate degree) at University of Kansas School of Law, and finally a Latin Legum Magister (LLM) Master of Laws in Corporate Law at New York University. Why did you decide to study Liberal Arts and afterward law?
I knew prior to getting my undergraduate degree that I was going to go to law school. Because of that, I tried to get a very broad undergraduate education, planning out my classes to include every different period of world history. For example, I took Art History of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, Medieval and Renaissance Literature, Roman and American History and so forth. I ended up with a major in Political Science, but a minor in economics, history, and sociology. I wanted to become a lawyer from a young age, thinking I would go to court and defend people. I have no great explanation for this since there were no lawyers in my family or that I knew.
My knowledge of the law came from old Perry Mason reruns! I found out that the actual practice of law was nothing like Mr. Mason’s world.
"Try different things until you learn what you really like to do. I learned over the years that I love business groups. I feel that I understand the language and rationale more than other groups and I think it can be a force for the betterment of our society as a whole"
You have worked in different companies as Brio Gold Inc, Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, Arizona Mining Association, Social Venture Partners Arizona, Cyprus Amax Minerals Company and you have passed from distinct positions from assistant to board member. How did you jump to that point to become Chair of the Board of Directors at Fennemore Craig, a law firm with a presence in the market of 130 years?
Actually, I did many of those things while I was at Fennemore Craig. Firms like Fennemore Craig, similar to many large firms, have an expectation that their lawyers will be involved in the community. I have done many different things over the years, trying to find the right fit, either from a career or personal standpoint. The position at Brio Gold was through a former client that asked me to chair the board of their publicly-traded company based in Toronto, but with all of their assets in Brazil. That was an incredible experience where I felt I learned a tremendous amount and enjoyed every minute of it.
In simple words, can you describe a little bit what a lawyer in the area of business and finance law, with an emphasis on mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, securities compliance and public-private partnerships as you, can do for the companies?
My job is really to help companies and their owners succeed in their business ventures, whether by helping them govern their entities properly, by helping them get finance to achieve their goals, or by helping them make a successful exit from their company. It is a privilege to stand alongside individuals that take tremendous risks with their capital and effort to build something valuable and provide jobs to many people. The public-private partnerships are the intersection between private business and public entities where we can build and finance ventures more effectively.
"I make lists and calendar everything. If it is not on a list or my calendar, it’s not happening"
Sarah, you are a board member at the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and you have received many awards and honors as Outstanding Women in Business, Phoenix Business Journal 2019, AzBusiness Leader 2019, AzBusiness Magazine, 2019, Best Lawyers in America®, Corporate Law, Mergers and Acquisitions Law, Mining Law, Securities/Capital Markets Law, Securities Regulation, 2007-2019, Southwest Super Lawyers®, Mergers and Acquisitions, Best Lawyers in America®, Lawyer of the Year, Mining Law, 2018 and so on, what´s the recipe of your success?
Try different things until you learn what you really like to do. I learned over the years that I love business groups. I feel that I understand the language and rationale more than other groups and I think it can be a force for the betterment of our society as a whole. Anytime you are raising consciousness about matters or developing opportunities for the next generation, that is a good thing.
You represent numerous clients in the mining and natural resource industry, Gaming and Hospitality and in sports and entertainment, what is the case that you have found more challenging and why?
Almost any matter in the mining/natural resource industry is challenging - but I love my mining/natural resource clients. It is truly a global industry. What they do is so incredibly challenging from a risk and technical standpoint, and it requires a tremendous investment of capital. What they produce is essential to our everyday life and commerce, and yet they have to do it in a manner that is environmentally safe and sound and as a good corporate citizen in the locations they operate. I have a tremendous amount of respect for these clients. The people that I have met along the way are some of my favorite people in the world.
That being said, probably the most challenging matter I have ever handled was as the early General Counsel for the public entity that did a competitive site location for the NFL Stadium for the Arizona Cardinals, then built, opened and now operates that stadium. I have been their general counsel for almost 20 years. The matter in the early years was very high profile, at times controversial and involved a tremendous number of detailed long term negotiated agreements with parties that were all well-represented and understood their positions and value. The matter involved interaction with elected officials and government personnel. And, my client was a public entity that had to operate in public open meetings and was subject to the public records law.
What is the reality of your day-to-day?
Every day I answer or read a couple of hundred emails, talk on the phone numerous times and attend meetings. I try to find quiet time to think and work, but that is often left to after hours or weekends.
Do you have any particular a philosophy that guides your career decisions?
Since I was a young lawyer, at each point that I was presented with a decision that seemed attractive enough to consider, I always asked myself if choosing one over the other would foreclose or make the not chosen path less likely to happen. If the answer was yes, I would choose to take the more difficult to attain path.
What do you love most about your job? & what is the most difficult part?
LOVE: Working with people! MOST DIFFICULT: Working with people! That is not a contradiction….
"There are unconscious biases everywhere and by everyone. If you are living, breathing and thinking the person you hold within your biases. but I find that it is better not to give that point of view any oxygen. I just try to set my compass on where I have to go and get on with it. If someone gets in your way, you have to figure how to navigate around that obstacle"
What is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
This may sound simple, but I make lists and calendar everything. If it is not on a list or my calendar, it’s not happening.
You are a very busy woman and still, you have time for volunteering in StartupAZ Foundation and Greater Phoenix Leadership. What does it drive you? what activities do you do there?
Like most individuals, I like to be part of organizations that are making a difference. I have loved the fact that the Greater Phoenix Chamber has moved into more workforce development and support, but also facilitating training programs, providing tools like workforce wellness and diversity and a relocation concierge services. StartupAZ Foundation is truly transformational to the entrepreneurial community in Arizona, by providing leadership development and training to new companies so as to improve outcomes or chances of success and also to inspire philanthropy in a virtuous cycle.
And, Greater Phoenix Leadership has led the way in helping to recruit, support and give voice to legislators in Arizona that understand what it takes to have a healthy business community.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to think of stories for children’s books. I also cook, bake, garden, workout, spend time with family and friends and scuba dive!
How are you as a wife?
Wow, that is a good question for my husband! I don’t have kids, but I try to be a great aunt! As a wife, I try to spend time with my husband as much as I can. After almost 30 years, he is my best friend and is still the person I look most forward to seeing. I was raised in a pretty traditional household, so at home, I do all of the laundries, the cooking and most of the cleaning up after meals. I think he likes that part! He does other things that I don’t much like to do, such as picking up the dry cleaning, paying bills, taking out the trash and organizing the information for taxes every year.
What are your plans for this 2019?
Honestly, right now it is to get to the end of the year alive! I have a presentation to give on a paper I wrote at an annual legal conference in July, which I have been working on since January. I have a lot of commitments and projects this year that I have been checking off that list as I go along. I plan to rest when the final one is done!
There is still the glass ceiling for women in the world: Fewer opportunities, jobs underpaid just for that fact of being a woman, etc. Have you experimented the glass ceiling? if yes, What are the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
There are unconscious biases everywhere and by everyone. If you are living, breathing and thinking the person you hold within your biases. I have experienced that from time to time in my career, but I find that it is better not to give that point of view any oxygen. I just try to set my compass on where I have to go and get on with it. If someone gets in your way, you have to figure how to navigate around that obstacle.
"Don’t expect it to be easy. It is hard work to be a representative of really smart and talented people. There is a lot of competition, so you have to work hard to provide the service clients expect"
What tips can you give to young girls who want to work in law like you?
Don’t expect it to be easy. It is hard work to be representative of really smart and talented people. There is a lot of competition, so you have to work hard to provide the service clients expect.
Who is the woman you admire the most and why?
As a young person, I was a reader. I loved biographies when I was young and one that I loved was about Golda Meir, one of the founders of Israel. She was born in Kiev, immigrated to the U.S. and then moved to Israel where she ultimately became the Prime Minister of Israel. As an adult lawyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She is responsible for the most significant changes for women in the last 50 years.
Something else do you want to add or share with us?
I love to scuba dive and have done over 500+ dives all over the world! My most memorable was diving with 200+ reef sharks in Tahiti and snorkeling in Jelly Fish Lake in Palau.
Name:Sarah A. Strunk
Company: Fennemore Craig
Designation: Chair of the Board of Directors
Social media: LinkedIn; Facebook