Photo by Laura Barisonzi.
It’s a lot more common to see an attorney with a chemical engineering degree practicing in patent law. But Paul Shim, who received both his B.S. and M.S. in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wound up as one of the nation’s leading dealmakers. He handles a constant stream of multibillion-dollar public and private M&A from the New York headquarters of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.
Shim joined the firm in 1987, the same year he received his law degree from New York University School of Law, and became partner in 1996. That year, Shim led his first deal as a partner for TPG Capital, and he has gone on to represent the firm in a large number of transactions. Shim has also represented American Express, Bank of America, Nortel Networks and China Investment Corp. in major deals. Among his more notable recent deals, Shim represented Jeffrey Bezos’ entities in the $250-million purchase of The Washington Post.
Lawdragon: How has your technical background – studying chemical engineering at MIT – benefitted you as a dealmaker?
Paul Shim: In my view, the skills set of a good transaction adviser is similar to that of a good engineer – robust analytical and problem-solving skills, a bit of creativity and the ability to communicate one’s thoughts. Both professionals take a concept and turn it into a product or completed deal – after navigating a gauntlet of rules and practices and solving some problems along the way. I also think that the intellectual rigor of an engineering education provides great preparation for almost any career.
LD: You have an extraordinary breadth in your practice, representing funds like TPG as well as companies, and working in finance, technology, publishing and even fashion. Are there key skills or an approach you bring to every deal?
PS: One of the many great things about my firm, Cleary Gottlieb, is that we do not have formal departments or rigid practice groups. As a result, all of our M&A lawyers have diverse practices serving a variety of clients. Other firms are structured differently, with M&A lawyers who specialize only in a particular industry or client sector, such as private equity, energy or financial institutions. Each approach has its benefits and drawbacks. In my view, the cross-fertilization that results from a more diverse practice outweighs the drawbacks, and I try to bring the full collection of my experiences to bear in every deal.
LD: As an international dealmaker, is there another city you would like to be based in other than New York?
PS: There are many cities in which I’d be happy to spend some time, and fortunately we have offices in a number of them.
LD: One of the deals for which you were chosen for this year’s Lawdragon 500 was the fascinating $250M purchase of the Washington Post by Jeffrey Bezos-related entities. Could you walk us through your analytical process about structuring that deal, which some say could reinvent newspaper publishing?
PS: There’s a great quote from the Disney movie “Kung Fu Panda” that I think may be apropos here – “The secret ingredient of my secret ingredient soup is … nothing”. The level of purpose, trust and integrity of the parties in the Washington Post acquisition was so high that from a deal engineering perspective, the best thing to do was to keep it simple. Indeed, the biggest challenge we faced was in keeping the story away from the newsroom that broke the Watergate scandal.
LD: Tell us about the first deal you led on. What did you learn from it? Did you have a particular mentor at Cleary Gottlieb?
PS: The first deal I led as a partner was TPG’s acquisition of Del Monte Foods in 1996-1997. Back in those days, private equity deal lawyers covered all aspects of the transaction – M&A, leveraged finance, equity commitments, etc., so I quickly got a crash course on how to manage a large multi-disciplinary team. It was a great experience, and it taught me the importance of having strong and talented colleagues. I’ve been very lucky to have had many mentors at Cleary Gottlieb who have generously provided me with invaluable professional and personal guidance throughout my career.
LD: Is there something that stands out in terms of what your legal education at NYU Law School contributed to your successful career?
PS: I met my wife at NYU Law School. She was in my first-year section.
LD: If you could go back and counsel yourself as a young associate, what advice would you give?
PS: Relax – just keep doing your best and it will all work out fine.
LD: If you weren’t practicing as a dealmaker, what would you be doing?
PS: I’d like to see what it’s like to be a principal, as opposed to an adviser, on a deal. Or maybe start a business of some kind.
LD: Do you have any particular interests when you’re not practicing law?
PS: My spare time over the past few years has been fully invested in being a spectator at high school track and lacrosse events, but those days are coming to an end, so I’m thinking of taking up distance running again.