Marie Oh Huber, SVP and General Counsel of eBay Inc., has been advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal profession since she started practicing law. By pushing for all lawyers to prioritize inclusion, Marie reminds us that everyone has a responsibility to contribute – not just those in leadership positions. Her career reflects the evolution of Silicon Valley – first at Hewlett-Packard, then Agilent Technologies, and now eBay. Given the pace of change in tech, perhaps it was inevitable that Marie would experience the challenges of corporate transformation as much or more than many GCs. In the full interview, Marie talks about encouraging – and managing – change in its many forms.
But first, we start with nine “fill in the blank” questions:
- The best thing a GC can do for a client is:
“Stand in the clients’ shoes and think about what keeps them up at night.”
- One big change in the corporate legal sector by 2025 will be:
“Innovating with different service models and more diverse teams to partner and support the greater velocity of business and decision-making.”
- The hardest thing I’ve ever done professionally was:
“Letting people go.”
- I love it when law firm lawyers:
“Take a more holistic approach and go beyond the specific tasks asked of them – proactively offer up observations and suggestions that shows they’re truly partnering with you.”
- I really dislike it when law firm lawyers:
“Serve their own interests rather than think in terms of the best interest of the client.”
- Three things I love about my team’s culture:
“How creative, scrappy and fun they are.”
- One thing I should really change about the way I work:
“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
- One sentence of advice for my 25-year-old self:
“Take more risks and go for it!”
- The thing I’m most proud of:
“My family and kids.”
DEI at the Ground Level
“The importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal space is something I have been pushing for ever since I started practicing law. Lawyers are uniquely positioned to make influential, sustainable changes that help advance DEI in the legal sector, but it requires dedication and hard work. While it’s easy to throw money at a cause and say you’ve contributed, the question we need to be asking ourselves is how can we bring about real, lasting change? I believe we all have a responsibility, from CEOs to fresh-out-of-law school lawyers, to step up to the plate and contribute.
Promoting DEI is not just the right thing to do, but it also makes sense from a business perspective. At eBay, I’m proud to say that we are one of the founding companies to partner with law firms to provide 1L internships to diverse candidates. We go to HBCUs and recruit diverse 1L students, and they spend half their time with eBay and the other half with a partnered law firm. The biggest benefit of this program is attracting and retaining diverse talent. Our department also strives to ensure our candidate pool is more diverse, including by adoption of the Mansfield Rule and by looking beyond the traditional sources of talent. We’re trying to take tangible actions towards bringing about change in the in-house legal community.”
Sustainable DEI Success
“Another factor to consider is how to establish a sense of belonging for diverse lawyers. How can we help diverse lawyers advance professionally and gain visibility for their effort? The same goes for DEI in the marketplace. How do we use purchasing power to really convey our priorities to law firms? At eBay, we want at least 35% of client matters to be handled by diverse lawyers (including racial, LGBTQ+, and others) and for our preferred provider firms, the expectation is 50%.
The work doesn’t stop when you open the door for DEI – you have to continuously be thinking about it, to push for opportunities that level the playing field for all to achieve professional success.
There is always more hard work to be done to improve DEI in the profession, but the biggest hurdle is moving from talking about change to making change happen. We’ll know we have succeeded when we get to the point where DEI in legal isn’t just a moment, it’s a movement.”
Corporate Transformations: Challenge and Reward
“Leading multiple global legal teams through major corporate transformations has been one of the most challenging, and most rewarding highlights of my career. I worked first at HP, then Agilent when both companies were going through major organizational changes. More recently, I joined eBay when the PayPal separation was close to being done, but not yet closed.
I learned many lessons along the way, but the biggest ones were those that involved developing the skills needed to lead people through intense change. By maintaining open communication lines, promoting an open opportunities perspective, and being empathetic and visible, I was able to better serve and guide my legal teams through these major transformations.”
Change, Emotions and Communication
“When your company is going through an M&A transformation, those in leadership positions should not underestimate the impact separations can have on the legal team. Imagine sitting next to someone for years, and in a matter of minutes you are told they will be leaving for a different company. With shifting loyalties and emotions running high – it feels like a professional divorce! We’re not just talking about moving cogs in a machine – these are real people with thoughts, feelings, and emotions having to go through this major change, and it takes time to process and adjust. As a leader, you have to take into consideration the human aspect of change and make sure your team knows you will be as transparent as possible and support them every step of the way.
An essential part of successfully leading through corporate transformation is establishing and maintaining an open line of communication. In a major company separation or merger, it can take longer for people to be on board and understand the new vision and strategy for the company. Sometimes people won’t like their new role or understand or agree with where the new leadership team wants to go. The first step as a leader is to acknowledge that change and adaptation is not always easy. Once people know you have acknowledged that you understand how they are feeling, it makes it easier to have productive and honest conversations and make the decision that come with any major change. It’s important to create a safe environment where people feel comfortable coming to talk to you. Oftentimes it’s a matter of keeping people in the loop on the goals of the new company. People don’t like to feel left out and unaware of what is going on. Reassurance, listening, and having open communication can make all the difference.”
“Another lesson I have learned that helps ease the transition is promoting a lens of new and exciting opportunities that come with corporate transformation. Some lawyers embrace change better than others. This is a good time for people to step back and figure out what drives them and gives them energy and how they can contribute to the company’s purpose. Going through a company spinoff can create career development opportunities for those that want to expand their scope, make a change or learn a new set of skills. It can be a chance for people to get promoted into leadership roles. It’s important to convey to your team an opportunistic approach to this change, where thinking outside the box is encouraged and career questions and evaluations are welcome.
Finally, when going through a big transformation, you have to keep an open mind. The qualities I really value and encourage most from my team are agility, a willingness to pitch in, ownership mentality, and a growth mindset. It takes true courage and a willingness to take on professional and personal risk, but what’s great is people shining because they have seized an opportunity. What really drives excellence, results, and a great culture are people who pay attention to emotional intelligence and building relationships.”