If there's a big deal happening in New Zealand, there's a good chance that Silvana Schenone will be involved.
The head of corporate law at MinterEllisonRuddWatts has an enviable list of blue-chip clients ranging from The Warehouse to Infratil, as well as the New Zealand Government.
To top that off, she has just been crowned the New Zealand dealmaker of the year at the Australasian Law Awards, and is not afraid to talk about her hard work and success.
"One of the things I think women are bad at is self-promotion," says Schenone. "I am probably an exception; I am perfectly comfortable telling people I have achieved a lot through my own efforts - I'm not embarrassed about that. I think that may be a cultural thing."
The 43-year-old grew up in Chile and moved to New Zealand in 2007, following her Kiwi husband home after a stint working for a top law firm in New York.
"I grew up in a country, like most Latin American countries, that are male-dominated environments in business. I actually was very interested in business, I was a very good student. I wanted to succeed and be part of the economy.
"But I also didn't have a problem being feminine and being who I am. So that combination was probably unusual in Chile at the time. But I feel very grateful that I was supported to do it."
Growing up in Chile, she was encouraged to pursue whatever career pathway she wanted.
Her father is a commercial engineer and headed Olivetti's Latin American division while her mother is an artist and housewife.
"I would have been either a medical doctor or lawyer - I thought law gave me a lot more options."
A bright student, she topped her law degree in Chile and practised for five years before applying and being accepted into Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard Universities to do a Masters in Law.
Despite being offered a full scholarship to Oxford and Cambridge, she ended up at Harvard because her father had studied there and wanted her to go there too - and offered to pay.
Between finishing her qualification and starting a job, she also fell in love with a New Zealander - her now-husband, MinterEllison partner and financial services specialist Lloyd Kavanagh.
"I got an offer to go and work for Sullivan and Cromwell which is the premier law firm in New York.
"I talked to Lloyd because we were thinking about getting married and I said we could just get married or I could do what I really want which is to keep going on my career and be at the top of my game, and he said to me 'I totally support you'. So we decided to get married and live in New York and he moved with me and supported me - he was fabulous in supporting me."
But after a year in New York - working seven days a week from 7am to 2am as well as public holidays - Schenone says she wanted more balance in her life and the pair decided to move to New Zealand.
"One of the learnings from my time in New York is you need to put boundaries to your drive, energy and ambition. Those boundaries to me are what people call balance - balance means whatever it means for you. I don't have children so balance to me is not about being at home looking after kids, but it is about my health, my fitness and my personal life."
Looking after her health is vital given that Schenone has type 1 diabetes and is permanently connected to an insulin pump, although she says it is something that has also contributed to her discipline and determination.
"I grew up with type 1 diabetes since I was 12 years old and the message to me when I was 12 was, you are responsible for your life - if you don't look after yourself you can die in a few hours, so to me that discipline and effort has taken me through life."
While she didn't have any regrets about moving from New York, it was a big change.
"I remember when I first arrived here in 2007, I remember emailing myself on the weekends thinking maybe my email is not working because clients weren't working all weekend."
But she says there isn't much difference when it comes to doing either a $10 million deal or a $10 billion one.
"You are still playing with people's most important project so whether someone is selling their business or buying one ... there is a lot pressure and a lot of moving parts.
"Ultimately the effort you put in and that personalised service, which is what I like to give my clients, is the same."
When Covid-19 hit New Zealand last year, many Kiwis were caught like rabbits in the headlights, worried about their jobs and business security.
But Schenone says she just switched into crisis mode. "Growing up in Latin America, you are very well aware that things are not permanent - that change can happen really quickly.
"Covid was one of those experiences in which I think New Zealanders found it very hard because suddenly everything they were used to changed.
"For them it was why is it affecting us in this way? While for me it was 'okay we are in crisis mode' and we just need to deal with it."
Schenone remembers being flooded with questions about the wage subsidy.
"A lot of clients asked about the wage subsidy, which started with simple questions: are we entitled to take the wage subsidy? How do we use it? And then it evolved into a really interesting question for not only the legal world, but the community in general."
She says instead of just looking at shareholder profitability, it became about the whole constituency base for companies.
"Some of my clients, for example the Warehouse Group, took that view. They were entitled to keep the wage subsidy, they had used it for the right purposes. Then they looked at it and they thought, 'is it the right thing to do if we look at our stakeholder group as a whole?' And they decided it wasn't."
Schenone also supported Infratil in turning down a $5.4b offer from Australian Super.
"Yes I'm an M&A lawyer. I do deals. But it's not always about getting a deal done. It's not about getting any deal done. It's actually achieving the outcome your client wants."
As well as getting deals done, she also gets called on when things go wrong. She recalls a time when a company asked her to cancel her holiday plans to deal with an emergency situation.
While they were extremely grateful, Schenone admits that she loved being brought in as the fix-it person.
"I am not at all fazed or worried about crises - to me crises are great opportunities and they are an opportunity to shine.
"It's that moment when something is difficult and it goes also to the question of why did I go into law?"
Schenone says she wouldn't have done any kind of law.
"I like doing the law I do, which is mergers and acquisitions - I do deals. That puts together all the things I love, which is people, so I deal with a lot of people, I don't work at my desk sitting down writing stuff; I sit in this room with big negotiations."
By "this room" she means the MinterEllison boardroom, which could easily seat 50 people.
"I love to negotiate - I love that idea and that is very Latin probably - so my dad is Italian, my mum is Chilean - so I probably have the worst of both worlds when I am grumpy - and the best of both worlds when you are trying to negotiate your way around and you think about things in different ways and look at it from different perspectives."
Schenone has just joined the board of casino operator SkyCity and says it is another opportunity for her to expand her career.
"It is also an industry that I find fascinating. I wouldn't be doing any board. I'm doing a dual-listed company that has a lot of challenges and opportunities. People have asked me how do you feel comfortable with the industry - casinos - actually because for SkyCity part of its purpose is to be the most ethical casino in the world.
"Part of what we are doing is employing over 4000 people, paying $125m in taxes, supporting the Māori and Pasifika community - there are so many good things that are attached to those challenges. I thought it was a fantastic opportunity."
Outside of SkyCity, Schenone is also big on encouraging women as a member of Global Women and the On Being Bold group of nine top executive women, which aims to inspire women in business.
When she started out in law in Chile, she was the only woman in her law firm, but Schenone says things have changed a lot for women in corporate and M&A law.
"Growing up in that environment, I never wanted to be like the men, but a lot of women, particularly one generation older than me, the way they saw their success as an M&A corporate lawyer was to pretend to be a man - to wear a black suit, to be tough as a man, not to show your feminine side, that you care about people because they wanted to be a man.
"I look at it and I am thinking, well, I have a massive competitive advantage because I am so different, because I can think from different perspectives, I can look at things differently."
MinterEllisonRuddWatts partner and Head of Corporate
Harvard Law School, Masters in Law; law degree from Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile
Began her career at Cariola & Cia as an associate, worked for Sullivan & Cromwell in New York before moving to New Zealand in 2007 where she joined MinsterEllison as a senior associate before becoming a partner in 2011. She is also a member of the New Zealand Takeovers Panel.
Married to Lloyd Kavanagh
Last book read:
Why we Sleep, by Matthew Walker
Last movie you saw:
Last overseas holiday:
Noosa in Australia - four days after the transtasman bubble opened.