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News | September 25, 2018
5 minute read

Warner Partner Stephen C. Waterbury Receives Inaugural Hall of Fame Award for Lifetime M&A Achievement

Click here for a PDF of the MiBiz article.

Stephen C. Waterbury, a partner with the law firm Warner LLP, has been recognized with the inaugural Hall of Fame Award to honor his ongoing successful career in mergers and acquisitions.

The “dean of M&A” in West Michigan, Waterbury has worked on hundreds of deals worth billions of dollars during his nearly four decades practicing law at Warner. He is the first recipient of a new award given to “individuals who’ve had an outsized impact on corporate deals in West Michigan” by the Association for Corporate Growth West Michigan and MiBiz.
In announcing the award this morning, MiBiz wrote: “Waterbury’s influence on the M&A industry has a much broader scope than just getting the best terms for his clients. Rather, the Harvard Law School graduate has focused specifically on teaching, training and mentoring successive generations of deal advisers, extending his reach well beyond the firm by having a material impact on the personal and professional lives of dozens of people.”
From his first transaction (helping a Grand Rapids manufacturer buy a business in Canada) to his largest transaction (the sale of NYSE-listed Foremost Corporation of America to Farmers Group, a subsidiary of Swiss-based Zurich Financial) to his most complex (a $500 million purchase of business lines from Avery Dennison that required coordinating work from law firms in 22 countries), Waterbury said that he has loved his career in law.
“I view the law as a way of serving people,” Waterbury explained. “At its highest and best, the legal professional is a service profession focused on helping people succeed. What many aspire to is what David Maister calls the ‘trusted advisor,’ someone a business owner seeks out because you listen well or your past advice has worked out well.
“My goal is to be someone who serves clients well. It’s an honor and a privilege to be viewed as that trusted advisor.”
Waterbury will be honored on Thursday, Oct. 25, as part of the MiBiz Deals & Dealmakers of the Year Awards in conjunction with ACG during a special event at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids. Corporate transactions and the advisors who power them will also be recognized during the event, which begins at 5:30 p.m.
“Steve’s influence looms large in West Michigan dealmaking,” said MiBiz Publisher Brian Edwards, who has known Waterbury for 25 years. “He’s a formidable lawyer and trusted business adviser whose work on hundreds of mergers, acquisitions and capital-formation transactions speaks for itself.  
“What’s more impressive, though, is the legacy he’s built as devoted mentor and tireless community builder. We couldn’t think of a better person to honor as the inaugural inductee into the West Michigan Dealmaker Hall of Fame.”
A native of Lansing, Waterbury received his undergraduate degree from Michigan State University before studying law at Harvard Law School. During summers at home in Lansing and as an MSU student, he worked at a downtown hotel where his boss instilled in him a passion for customer service.
That perspective, Waterbury said, was reinforced when the firm’s longest-serving managing partner, Charles E. McCallum took a crew to a Ritz-Carlton in 1992 after the hotelier was the first service business to receive a Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award. Waterbury, McCallum and others from Warner spent two intense days at the Ritz-Carlton, starting in the basement laundry room and working their way up to understand the award-winning vision of customer service.
“That’s been my guiding light: to help others succeed,” Waterbury explained.
He arrived in Grand Rapids in September 1979, exploring all practice areas during his first year at Warner as all incoming associates do. After trying his first jury trial, he knew he wanted to focus on business law. And after concluding his first deal – an acquisition for Monarch Road Machinery, later Monarch Hydraulics and now Bucher Hydraulics – he was convinced M&A was his path.
During his career, Waterbury has led or participated on deal teams involving clients in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, energy, insurance, human resources, software, construction, agriculture, packaging and other areas. In addition, Waterbury is experienced in international business transactions and corporate governance best practices. He serves as counsel to a variety of leading Michigan businesses, including multigenerational family businesses and frequently attends client board meetings.
MiBiz also applauded Waterbury for his role as a mentor who has trained not only attorneys but investment bankers, accountants and communication professionals also involved in M&A deals.
“Mentoring was not formalized back when I started practicing law, but now there’s more attention paid to connecting people who might be a good fit,” Waterbury recalled. “I see that role as introducing younger attorneys to opportunities – within the firm, with nonprofits in our community and with clients.
“I feel that is done better at Warner than it is at a lot of law firms. We do better in terms of client service when we directly connect our lawyers with clients and make the full resources of the law firm available.”
During his tenure with Warner, Waterbury has served in numerous leadership roles. He current serves on the firm’s Management Committee and its Inclusion Committee.
Giving back in the community has been equally as important to Waterbury. He currently serves as a trustee to the Gerald R. Presidential Foundation, which he also advises as legal counsel. He served for 11 years on the board and executive committee of the Grand Rapids Symphony, including two as board chair. He is the past president of the University Club of Grand Rapids and ACG Western Michigan and past chair of the Saint Andrew Cathedral Pastoral Council.

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