How Match Group’s GC Navigates M&A, Data Privacy Demands

Most GCs can point to a mentor who shaped their career—and Jared Sine is no exception. Before he took on the role of general counsel and secretary of Match Group, which owns and operates several online dating web sites including OkCupid, PlentyOfFish, Tinder, and Match.com, Sine learned the art of M&A strategy from Mark Okerstrom, CEO of travel site Expedia.

“Deals are like math equations—to get to the right outcome, you need to think about the variables, and how you structure them, to make sure each party is getting what they need,” Sine said.

Learn how Sine bridges the worlds of commercial and legal activities, while protecting Match, and its vast membership, on the data privacy front as well.  

How did leading Expedia’s M&A efforts from 2012 to 2016 prepare you for your current role at Match?

During that four-year period, we did a massive amount of deals—approximately $10 billion-worth. That allowed us to see a variety of issues. When we were acquiring businesses at Expedia, we were integrating all aspects of that business, including the legal teams, into our existing department. I took the lead role as it related to those legal departments, incorporating them into our own legal department.

Seeing those different departments gave me broad exposure to a variety of issues, both commercial and legal. Post-Trivago acquisition, when we took a majority stake in Trivago, through the time I left, I essentially oversaw all legal issues for that business. So I was able to get a bit of general counsel experience while still operating as the deal lawyer for Expedia.

What common barriers do you see in M&A deals—what steps can GCs take to overcome them?

One of the great things I learned from Mark Okerstrom, at the time CFO of Expedia and now CEO, is that deals are like math equations. To get to the right outcome, you need to think about the variables—and how you structure them—to make sure each party is getting what they need out of the deal. That’s a helpful way to think about it as a lawyer as well.

To break through barriers, you need to understand not only your business but the legal structure and issues that go along with the business you’re acquiring. When you understand their needs, and yours, you can craft the right solutions. The other thing I see that creates barriers to M&A deals is people often get emotionally attached to a certain way of thinking about a deal. You just have to be very logical and dispassionate. Most of the times, you’ll end up doing the right deals—and walking away from the wrong deals.

What else would you advise GCs to overcome some of these barriers?  

Sometimes as lawyers, we think too much like lawyers as opposed to like business folks. That sometimes leads us to lose the ability to be creative. I’m not saying we should ever do something that is not legitimate but if you’re thinking of the deal like a math equation—and you have this legal structure that you’ve been taught in law firms, of how a deal has to be structured, even if it’s now changed materially—sometimes you’ll forget there are other ways to do this. So you just can’t be wedded to legal structures that otherwise tie your hands. You have to think more outside the box and be more commercial.

What internal collaborations help you strengthen business objectives?  

The mantra my team works under is that we are just as responsible for the business outcomes as the business teams. It’s essential we work closely with every team across the business. I encourage my teams to embed themselves with the product and engineering teams. To work closely with accounting—to understand the accounting impacts on the way certain contracts or deals may be structured. It’s critical we understand what the forecasts look like, where the business is looking to go. That way, we can craft terms in our contracts or create structures within our organization that facilitate the future of where we’re looking to go as opposed to just the here and now.

At the end of the day, I never refer to our relationship with the business as a client relationship. It is a partnership to achieve the objectives we set out to achieve.

Turning to auto-renewal laws—how does Match stay apprised of these laws and ensure customer preferences are heard, too?

We’ve built a team that is very involved on the legislative front. In fact, a member of my team was in Vermont testifying in front of a congressional body about an auto-renewal law they were looking to pass. We also have clear disclosures on our sites. We do annual and biannual—and often tri-annual—reviews of the flows for auto-renewal, to make sure that as things evolve from a legislative standpoint, we’re compliant and thoughtful about the way we disclose.

It can be tricky. A mobile app, for instance, has limited screen space. We make sure it is a clean and nice product experience, and that our legal required language is thoughtfully crafted in such a way they get the information they need in the space that we have.

How are you strengthening privacy in U.S. and overseas markets?

We take privacy very seriously. We invest heavily in it. We’ve expanded our privacy team. We have multiple privacy attorneys, and multiple privacy program managers. We make sure our global brands not only comply with those laws but also have a positive privacy story to tell our users, because if our users don’t feel like they can trust us with their data, that becomes a problem for them and for us.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation, we’ve been required to build tools and systems that allow users to access their data, which is great. We want users to know the data that we have on them and to be able to share it in compliance with the laws coming into effect under GDPR. But in some instances, it can create additional risks, such as requiring us to connect systems that we otherwise wouldn’t connect for purposes of “subject access requests” and “data portability.” So we take a number of additional steps to make sure we protect our systems even more so, while complying with the regulations.

These are the balances we have to take into account, and we’re very careful and thoughtful about the way we structure our systems and architect them to minimize risk and exposure. We work to take all the necessary precautions to make sure systems are secure.

On a personal note, you’re active in your church. How does that help keep you centered professionally, too?

As part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints I teach a Gospel principles class, which focuses on the basic tenets of Christianity. I feel fortunate, because on a weekly basis, I’m teaching the bedrock, and it helps me to focus on the bedrock—to put things in perspective. Every morning before work, I take at least 30 minutes and read in the Scriptures. One of the things that I take away is how important it is to empower people. The more you empower people, the more you get out of people, and the better the outcomes. In many respects, what I do from a religious standpoint permeates the way I operate on a daily basis.

What can we expect next from you as Match GC?

I want to continue to make Match Group, and our platforms and products, as effective as they can be, as well as safe and comfortable places for people to engage in what we like to call “social discovery.” We’re one of the few platforms where our objective is not to move real-life interactions online but to help people discover online connections that can be meaningful offline.

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 today.