As part of our ongoing “As the Leader” series, Marie Oh Huber met with students for a wide-ranging discussion that included the key leadership lessons she’s learned over her career, including in her current role as senior vice president and chief legal officer of eBay. Here are some highlights, edited for space, from the conversation, which was moderated by Ronald Mann, the Albert E. Cinelli Enterprise Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and Co-Director of the Charles Evans Gerber Transactional Studies Center.
The Long-Term Effects of the Pandemic on Work
"This is going to fundamentally change the way we think about work as well as talent acquisition and retention. I bet business travel will not return to the same levels as before and people will have a much different view of flexibility.
There’s so much we can do remotely, but there’s so much that you lose out on by not working face-to-face. How do you replicate the water cooler conversations? How do you give younger employees the opportunities to learn and have those serendipitous conversations? We need to figure that out to make sure that some people who might not otherwise have the visibility don’t get lost."
The Impact of the Social Justice Movement on eBay’s Business
"These issues are not new to eBay, which has a billion-plus listings. You can imagine people trying to sell anything from Nazi paraphernalia to other kinds of items. We’ve had to figure out what our stance is going to be on that, so we have a social-political steering committee that includes members of the executive leadership team and people from various disciplines like diversity, equity and inclusion.
With this greater awareness of racial and social injustice this year, we had a discussion around specific items like Black Americana items. These are items that portray Black people in often demeaning, stereotypical ways. So we decided to take a stance and remove those items. It’s fairly complex because some people would say, “That’s a part of history.” And who makes those decisions about whether a particular drawing or picture or item or statue is demeaning or stereotypical?
The only thing you know is that you’re not going to please everybody, and you just need to be comfortable with making a decision on items. You also have to recognize that this is a fluid situation and sometimes we might get it wrong and we just need to continue to evolve. This steering committee meets when and as needed on a lot of different issues."
What Law School Teaches Well, and What It Could Do Better
"The law school education definitely taught me the rigor around critical thinking analysis, writing, and communicating. In the business world, people will often turn to lawyers because we have those skills and because we can critically problem solve. That’s a terrific and useful practical skill — being able to take a complex situation and distill it into layman’s terms and explain it to people and figure out a solution together. Some people are better at that than others, but I really value and appreciate that in team members and colleagues.
In terms of what I think law schools can do better, I would suggest teaching collaboration and critical problem-solving in cross-functional organizations. Maybe some could be taught in smaller classes or groups where you use more of the business school model, and with more real-life example. Another opportunity is to focus more on leadership skills. I know some people might say, “Well, how do you teach leadership?” I think you can talk about specific examples of leading the team and developing a team.
What are the qualities that are important regardless of the setting, whether it’s the private sector, academia, or the public sector? In my mind, those are things like courage, agility, flexibility, and adaptability. It’s also super-important to have empathy to be a good leader."
Career Advice for Law Students
"It’s great to always have curiosity and a desire to be a lifelong learner. That includes an openness to opportunities and to different perspectives, constantly thinking about how might somebody else be looking at a given situation or problem and put yourself in their shoes.
And recognize the need to really be agile and flexible. If I think about some of the best employees on our teams, they are people who are willing to jump in and help, even if it’s not their area. They have the courage to speak up, even if it’s bad news or something that’s difficult. I love people who are optimistic and have that sense of resiliency. Even if something didn’t go well, they figure out a way to approach it differently and they just don’t give up."