By Mandi Cardosi
When thinking of his family, Michael Bonasso believes they are a large reason he has become such a successful businessman.
Bonasso, a third-generation immigrant, works in Charleston as a lawyer.
Talk to Bonasso about his present, and he’ll tell you he’s gotten as far as he has thanks to his past.
His parents and grandparents instilled real life values and work ethic into their children, immigrating to West Virginia from Italy about 100 years ago.
The family settled in Fairmont by way of New York after his grandfather came to the United States with a little money and a lot of hope.
“We grew up with an idea in working hard, gaining and using an education,” Bonasso said. “I worked from the time I was a kid up through high school, college and law school.”
Bonasso attended West Virginia University where he majored in accounting and then later received his law degree. He has been practicing in Charleston since 1978.
Bonasso now works with the law firm Flaherty, Sensabaugh and Bonasso PLLC where he has been since 1991.
His work now is mostly in complex, commercial litigation and products liability, he said. Although he said the work can be challenging, it’s always interesting to him because he is constantly learning something new.
“There’s always a new arena to learn something,” he said. “Trying to improve the way we deliver our services.”
Bonasso’s father, Russell, went back to school to gain his college degree in his 70s, because of his belief that having an education was one of the most important things a person could have.
And Bonasso said his father is an inspiration for that reason.
“He was a great inspiration you can be 80 years old and still learn,” Bonasso said.
After attending Fairmont State University in Fairmont where Bonasso grew up, his father earned his undergraduate degree and continued on to work on a masters at WVU.
The penchant for hard work in the family doesn’t end with Bonasso’s father. Bonasso’s grandparents owned businesses during the Great Depression.
Bonasso’s grandfather, Francesco, was the first member of his family to come to the United States. Francesco arrived when he was 16 years old with only $33 in his pocket.
“They built a decent business then lost it in the Depression,” Bonasso said.
As for his career path, Bonasso said it’s always been in him to practice law.
“I found myself interested in — how does it work, what are the ways to grow the business and run it efficiently and effectively,” he said.
A little trick Bonasso has found for success is to surround himself with qualified people.
Bonasso doesn’t credit his ideas of business to himself; he said his colleagues are blessed with everything they have, and that is part of how they can run a successful business.
“We’re blessed,” he said. “We don’t go anywhere without the gift of God, and I think we have His favor.”
Bonasso said as far as his law firm locating on the corner of Quarrier and Capitol streets in downtown Charleston, luck was involved in bringing that to fruition.
The building the firm currently is in was completely renovated and even added to, he said. When the law firm took over, the windows were boarded up and many other buildings in downtown Charleston were standing empty.
Although the work done in the building is to help people, Bonasso said it isn’t all about having luck on his team’s side.
“We have an opportunity to work for people who need help,” he said. “If you’re competent, honest and serve the clients’ needs, it will work and it has worked for us.
“That’s always been the way I see things.”
With the support of his wife, Linda, six children, six grandchildren and three more on the way, Bonasso said his life right now is more than busy enough.
“They keep us pretty busy,” he said.
His family members are spread throughout the Mountain State, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but Bonasso said he and his wife stay busy with all of them.
The couple’s youngest child is currently attending law school.
Bonasso said he does manage to find some time to play soccer occasionally.
Doing for others is something that not only is important to Bonasso but also his entire law firm.
He said his colleagues often give back to the community, which is an important part of the overall picture of what they do for Charleston and the surrounding area.
“We have folks involved in service boards here in the Kanawha Valley,” Bonasso said. “A lot of people here put their time into giving back to the community.”
Expanding beyond the Mountain State’s borders, the law firm also regularly helps other countries through mission work in South America, Honduras and South Africa.
“These three groups have reached out to these kids to provide food, lodging and Christian teaching,” Bonasso said. “A lot of people here put their time into giving back to the community.”
The law firm also participates once a year in giving free legal advice to the community.
“Once a year we take a month and provide free legal advice,” he said. “A lot of firms do that, but people here feel compelled to do it and they do it.”
Bonasso said through programs like the YWCA, Salvation Army and Boys and Girls Club of America, his firm is able to reach out to the community and put its hands and feet to work.
“To me that is a very important part of what we should be doing as an organization,” Bonasso said. “To give back some of the blessings we’ve received as a group.
“They are kind of the silent servers. I was surprised and impressed to see how much the good-hearted folks do here in the community.”
He said working hard not only in their jobs but also in giving back builds the character of those working at the firm, and it’s an example he sets day in and day out.
“It says a lot for them and what they’ve done to make this firm a strong organization and a successful business,” he said. “When you get the competence, and you look at character, that’s part of the character — I think.”?