NYSE board members had called together an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss whether Grasso should resign because of growing public controversy over his $140 million compensation package.
The board met a second time Wednesday evening to discuss who would become interim chairman and CEO. Sonsini, a board member, was offered the position but turned it down.
In more than 30 years as a business lawyer in the high-tech region near San Francisco, Sonsini has established a reputation as a deal-maker whose clients have included some of the world’s best-known technology companies such as Hewlett-Packard Co. HPQ.N , Apple Computer Inc. AAPL.O and Sun Microsystems Inc. SUNW.O .
Sonsini had powerful supporters. Steve Westly, California’s state controller and a former top executive of online auctioneer eBay Inc. who had joined the chorus of government executives calling for Grasso’s resignation, was full of praise for Sonsini.
“I cannot think of anyone who would be stronger than Larry Sonsini (as a candidate),” Westly said in a conference call with reporters. “You are looking for someone who is above reproach. I think Larry Sonsini fits that bill.”
A director of the NYSE since 2001, Sonsini heads the firm of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati, a powerhouse law firm that has been counsel to scores of tech firms looking to go public.
Through Aug. 31, the law firm, which also has offices in New York, Austin, Texas, and Salt Lake City, Utah, has advised on four stock offerings worth $1.29 billion this year, and assisted in filing plans for three more with a potential value of $511.2 million.
At the height of the dot-com boom, in 2000, the law firm advised on the completion of 100 stock offerings, with a total value of $18.11 billion.
Although the collapse of the Internet bubble left critics questioning much of the hype that fed the stock market frenzy, Sonsini emerged above the fray, colleagues said.
“I would say that he is the most respected person, regardless of profession, in Silicon Valley,” said Jesse Choper, former dean of the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley, where Sonsini has taught securities law since 1985.