Social sciences majors don’t always get the respect they deserve. Many parents may question whether a child should pursue a degree in anthropology, history, linguistics, or even political science. But Sarah Sandok Rabinovici is perhaps the best example of why such an undergraduate major is smart preparation for a law career.
Today, Sandok Rabinovici is general counsel of the Americas for security and data privacy for Resideo, a home security, comfort controls, energy efficiency and wholesale distributor of low-voltage security products company. The company is headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, and she is based out of Melville, New York, a Long Island suburb of New York City.
One can see how her degree in anthropology and Spanish, with significant coursework in political science, prepared her for the job.
“Being a lawyer means being a critical thinker,” says Sandok Rabinovici. “As a lawyer, we are presented with problems. We have to ask questions and come up with interpretations, often in the context of different cultural interpretations. An ability to understand issues is an ability to communicate better.”
Indeed, the recent history of Resideo, which includes acquisitions and the merging of technologies and brands into the company, seems cut out for anthropologists. Sandok Rabinovici explains that not only is the US more diverse than ever before, but so too are the varied assets and organizations that have been combined to form Resideo. “We have to understand the commonalities as much as the differences in order to bridge between them,” she says.
Resideo was spun off from Honeywell in 2018 as a publicly traded entity. In 2019, as assistant general counsel of procurement, Sandok Rabinovici was tasked with adjusting the strategy and leverage and purchasing power that a large company has and retaining those advantages. She also worked to ensure they remained nimble as a smaller technology focused company, working to bring new and innovative products and services to customers. These are the kinds of things she enjoys about being an attorney.
“I’m not an engineer, but I have to understand technical things,” she says. “I like to dig into problems, find ways to solve them, and move forward.”
Her initial interest in law came from a classmate, also a social sciences major, who told her their studies were good preparation for a studying law. She initially saw herself being a litigator, but over time she was exposed to labor and employment related issues, touching on topics from some political science classes from her undergraduate studies, that drew her to counseling and antitrust work.
“I was assigned documents reviews in a big case in my first firm,” she says. “I dug into it, learned more about antitrust, and fell in love with it.” She further honed that expertise in firm work, transitioning to in-house counsel after about a decade.
The mergers and acquisitions work doesn’t end at the closings, as anyone who has been through one can attest. For example, there are technical integrations as well as a cultural blend that comes along with them. Sandok Rabinovici sees the set of variables that she walked into, the spinoff and the mix of an established business and building something new, as offering a fresh start.
Then, 2022 brought something different: buying and blending First Alert. Sandok Rabinovici was intimately involved in this acquisition—it was worth nearly $600 million, which included an established business and brand on a larger scale than the previous deals Resideo did—and continues to work with that business on a day-to-day basis. The mix of products and services from the company straddle the business-to-business and business-to-consumer world, with independent distributors in the mix.
Her work not only taps into the technical details of these various businesses and systems, but also supports the business teams doing the work. “I see myself as a businessperson first,” she says. “I get asked about financial risks. I have to understand the goals and paths to get there, helping them to tweak it to contain relative costs and mitigate risk.”
Outside of Resideo, Sandok Rabinovici has also established a strong reputation. “It’s terrific working with Sarah,” says Russell L. Leaf, partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. “She’s smart and strategic, and she has a remarkable ability to quickly distill complicated issues and get to the heart of a matter. We have had a great partnership on a number of significant corporate transactions, and I look forward to continuing to work with her in the future.”
Sandok Rabinovici sees her vocation as a lawyer supplemented by her avocation: being the first vice president on the executive board of the Manetto Hill Jewish Center. Her recent work includes managing her fiduciary duties to its members and supporting the synagogue as it figured out how to provide services and reopen in the pandemic era. Sandok Rabinovici focused on listening to different points of view. She says her anthropology degree helps her with this role as well.
“I always ask, what perspective are they bringing?” she says. “We try to make the best decisions, even if we can’t please everyone.”
Back at Resideo, she was tasked with supporting the business in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East during the pandemic, working across time zones while she managed her own family in work-from-home conditions.
It was grueling, but she liked the responsibility. And somehow in the process, she acquired some great recipes for cabbage, noodles, and cookies from her European counterparts. Which sounds like the fun side of understanding the human experience.
Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP is consistently ranked among the nation’s leading firms for mergers and acquisitions, representing buyers, sellers, special committees of boards, debt and equity investors, and financial advisors in some of the most significant and complex acquisition transactions. Willkie offers comprehensive representation for all types of transactions, including contested takeovers, strategic alliances, management buyouts, leveraged recaps, and acquisitions from reorganization proceedings.