eBay GC: ‘Think Like a Customer’

Marie Oh Huber is passionate about fostering internal relationships. As eBay’s senior vice president and general counsel, Huber believes close collaboration is essential to staying ahead of regulations—in eBay’s case, corporate tax reform, sales tax considerations, and pending court and legislative decisions.

As the giant e-commerce corporation awaited the Supreme Court’s decision on internet sales tax, Huber and her team partnered with eBay’s business and product teams to ready for each possible outcome.

“Teamwork, communication, and transparency are key to being viewed as a trusted business partner with internal leadership across business and corporate functions, such as finance and strategy, particularly during times of transformation,” Huber said. “Change is the best catalyst for opportunity.” 

Learn how Huber shapes ongoing collaboration, while helping eBay evolve as a technology company for online buyers and sellers.


Why should GCs foster relationships with internal leadership, and what are common impediments?

GCs need relationships in place with colleagues to partner, guide, and navigate an increasingly complex global landscape, marked by corporate tax reform, sales tax considerations, increasing regulation, and pending court and legislative decisions. I’m fortunate to work with an incredibly talented team that feels strongly about the economic empowerment of our buyers and sellers worldwide.

Teamwork, communication, and transparency are key to being viewed as a trusted business partner with internal leadership across business and corporate functions, such as finance and strategy, particularly during times of transformation. This is especially important in the fast-moving ecommerce world, where new competitors emerge each day, and where regulators are focused on keeping up with rapid advancements in technology and consumer preferences.

How can GCs develop these relationships and ultimately, help drive business success?

Over the course of my career, I have sought authentic relationships with business peers. It helps to know the business and its competition, use the product, think like a customer, and find shared goals and interests. You create meaningful relationships by putting yourself in their shoes, and learning about their opportunities and challenges.

Serving on boards has allowed me to gain additional business perspectives. Also it’s critical to share developments in political, policy, and legislative issues with business, product, and customer experience colleagues so they can factor relevant changes into their short- and long-term plans. As we awaited the Supreme Court’s decision on internet sales tax, for example, we partnered with our business and product teams to anticipate the implications of each possible outcome.

You’ve been named a “top 50 women in tech.” How do you stay current on technology, and how does that advance internal relationships?

eBay is first and foremost a technology company. To be a successful GC in an innovative tech company, it’s critical to constantly learn and seek out information on tech, ecommerce, law, public policy, and general business and finance news.

I learn every day from our terrific global teammates about the business, competition, and legal, regulatory, and policy matters affecting our business. I regularly read financial and current affairs publications. I stay engaged with colleagues in tech, ecommerce, legal, and public policy fields. And I’m a fan of podcasts—some favorites are Recode, a16z, Bloomberg Law, HBR IdeaCast, and The Economist.

Today’s technologies, such as artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and the internet of things, along with tomorrow’s advancements in conversational commerce and blockchain, and their practical applications to both ecommerce and customer experience, are raising questions about new ways customers find and get what they need and love.

How does your advocacy of inclusion also strengthen internal relationships?

Diversity is critical to promote creativity and innovation. Creating an environment where new and unique ideas are valued leads to better business outcomes and a more inclusive workplace where people can contribute their maximum potential.

For instance, having more women on leadership teams drives a greater focus on women as current and future customers. At eBay, it helps us attract and retain a greater pool of talent because people feel they are valued in the workplace. Also, because we’re a global marketplace, with customers in more than 190 markets, it’s imperative that our workforce reflects our global customer base.

What’s at stake with the Supreme Court Wayfair ruling, and how are you advancing eBay’s position?

Small business owners are at the heart of our business, and strategic partners in our overall business strategy. In South Dakota v. Wayfair, the Supreme Court [decided] to overturn its own precedent in Quill. Overturning the Quill standard [will] create enormous audit, compliance, and legal burdens on independent small businesses. These entrepreneurs are a critical segment of the national economy, spurring innovation, income, and job creation. Many independent online sellers would have to limit their operations if the physical presence rule were overturned.

eBay believes it is important their voices are heard. Recently, we invited sellers from every state to sign eBay’s amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold Quill. We hosted a Seller Advocacy Day, where we invited our sellers to come to Washington, D.C., and engage with members of Congress to address issues that are most pressing to them and their businesses.

How will eBay stay ahead of new technology platforms?

Rapidly advancing technology platforms will continue to transform the way commerce is conducted globally. We are also seeing consolidation across the retail landscape, which we believe will result in a few large online shopping destinations that are customer-centric, technology-forward, and global in nature. eBay, we believe, will be one of those destinations.

On average, our U.S. sellers export to 17 countries. We embrace disruptive technology such as image recognition and machine learning, and the value of innovating to help customers easily find what they want.

My team helps the business navigate the fluid legal and regulatory landscape, and advocates for policy that helps our sellers grow their businesses—for example, by reducing tax and audit compliance burdens and friction in trade in order to promote the free flow of goods across borders.

On a personal note, how does being a cyclist strengthen your GC role?

Taking time for activities outside of work helps me bring my whole self to work during the week. I use cycling to connect with friends and family, feel the wind in my face, de-stress, and see different parts of the world. There’s nothing like climbing a steep pitch or descending a long hill—it requires focus, kicks in endorphins, and clears your head so you can tackle your toughest work issue with a fresh perspective. The best part is coffee afterwards with friends!

What can we expect next from you in fostering internal relationships and—helping online buyers and sellers thrive?

Change is the best catalyst for opportunity. It’s important for our global legal, government relations, and public policy teams to help drive the business and be trusted partners with our colleagues in product and technology, finance, strategy, and communications to help make critical decisions and always act in the company’s best interest.

Our global team is in a great position to connect the dots for colleagues around the world in areas of strategic importance, like payments intermediation, privacy, and policy changes; navigate the competitive landscape composed of both well-established multinationals and scrappy, well-funded startups; and understand emerging technologies and the laws working to keep pace with them.

There is a tension between technology and innovation, and legislators and regulators looking to garner more revenue for their own jurisdictions, while responding to consumer protection demands. Our sector must also rapidly evolve to keep up with changing sentiments of global consumers in how they live, shop, and engage with one another.

I’m excited to be at the intersection of tech, commerce, policy, and the law at a time when these external forces—and consumer preferences—are changing so rapidly.

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Marie Oh Huber will speak at Bloomberg Law In-House Forum West on June 27 in San Francisco, when  egal industry leaders will discuss key challenges facing corporate counsel today. She will speak on the 3:05 pm panel, “Fostering Relationships with Internal Leadership.”

This profile originally appeared in In-House In Brief, a biweekly newsletter of Big Law Business and the In-House Council. To receive up-to-the-minute news and analysis curated specifically for in-house counsel, subscribe for free todayLearn more about the In-House Council event series.