Silicon Valley: Where Legal and Business Minds Merge

At ebay, David Lancelot shares why being a business leader is paramount in helping to drive strategy for a complex global organization

David Lancelot makes his way across the stage at ebay’s San Jose, California, headquarters, speaking at another quarterly onboarding meeting for more than two hundred new company employees. It’s a walk he’s made many times over the last few years, as Lancelot will be introducing these new employees as a member of the leadership team for ebay Classifieds Group.

David Lancelot, eBay Classifieds Group

At first glance, Lancelot looks like many executives in Silicon Valley. He has a relaxed demeanor, casual wardrobe, and is carrying an inspirational message about innovation and leadership that has become a cornerstone to ebay’s culture—especially considering the company’s influence on e-commerce both in the United States and around the world.

But Lancelot is not your typical associate general counsel. In fact, his life experiences—including living in many different parts of the world—have culminated in a career at ebay that is as intricate as the company itself. And despite also serving as the global head of legal for ebay Classifieds Group, a division of ebay with online classifieds businesses all over the world, little in Lancelot’s onboarding presentation is solely focused on the legal function.

“I think it’s critical for people to see that I’m acting as a business leader, as well as a lawyer,” Lancelot says. “I also talk about the fact that I’m an immigrant to the United States because I think these days it’s important to be clear about the value of immigrants. I say, ‘I’m a British American, and my father came to this country as an immigrant and worked his way up. Now, it’s my turn to work my way up. All of you have the opportunity to do the same at ebay.’ Then, I reinforce our values here: if you’re courageous, if you’re inventive, and if you’re driven, then you will go far at ebay.”

Lancelot’s travels, upbringing, and work ethic are major contributors to why he not only presents at these quarterly onboarding meetings but also why he has a seat at the leadership table today at ebay. He also inspires new members during onboarding to know what they’re capable of achieving when it comes to their roles in complementing the business strategy.

Much of that comes from Lancelot’s upbringing. His maternal grandparents are from South Wales. His grandfather worked at Port Talbot Steelworks and his grandmother in the office of the Maesteg Revlon factory, while his great grandfather and great uncle were coal miners. Born in Australia, Lancelot spent his early childhood in Greece before moving to the United Kingdom. His father then went to work for a construction consulting company in Chicago, where he told his family he would work while they waited for their American visas back in the UK.

As Lancelot would learn years later, though, his father was actually proving his value to the construction company for a permanent role, which he earned, and eventually worked his way up to CEO. “He told me from a young age that there are a lot of very smart people in the world, but hard work is what brings success,” Lancelot says. “He was also known at his firm as a leader with strong ethics and with a very high moral standing.”

Proving one’s value has now become a focal point of Lancelot’s leadership approach. Joining ebay as a contractor, Lancelot worked his way up to become integrated with the business. In fact, he describes his ascent to the leadership table as being a business person with legal skills.

“Proving your value and showing that you’re operating in a way that drives the business strategy is key,” he says. “Once you’ve proven your value, it’s about asking for your seat at the table and getting your seat at the table.”

That’s also essential for a division as complex as ebay Classifieds Group. As an international internet business, the division is run out of Amsterdam by a multinational team and spans the globe with ten brands in fourteen countries. More than three hundred million people use the ebay Classifieds platforms each month to find what they need in their local area. The business runs market-leading advertising supported classifieds platforms in countries as diverse as the UK, Germany, Denmark, Italy, South Africa, Mexico, Canada, Australia, and more.

“We’re dealing with the international legal and business complexity of all those different environments, as well as plugging into ebay’s sophisticated matrix organization—finance, HR, legal/government relations, tax, procurement, the Accounting Policy Group, and the Data Council,” he says. “I think we work quite well in that environment.”

Lancelot credits that to his team, as well as the sophistication of the diverse business and legal function. “You might be in a room of eleven people, where everyone is from a different country,” he says. “You might think that might not work because their cultures are so different, but these are all very sophisticated international business professionals, and through working with Classifieds and ebay for a period of time, we have built this culture of operating a very sophisticated business that’s been very successful with strong growth over a period of eight years now.”

But it’s also a change in mind-set that Lancelot inspires when it comes to influencing business, and that is giving legal a seat at the table. Lancelot says in-house lawyers need to perform their role with ethics and in a way that protects one’s company. At the same time, they have to be integrated with the business, drive strategy, and bring value through the special skill sets that lawyers possess.

“Because of our functional nature, we often have a global perspective,” Lancelot explains. “Sometimes, we’re working with a country’s team who may not yet be up to speed on what is going on in Australia or Germany. It then becomes our duty to cross-pollinate, to drive those ideas around the business, and to drive the global culture of the business.”

That’s why during those quarterly onboarding presentations, Lancelot also presents at a breakout session as part of a cross-functional team. Partnering with ebay’s chief accounting officer, and a member of the human resources team, the team speaks about the importance of driving the business’ strategy and working together to achieve ebay’s goals, all while keeping its values and ethics top of mind.

“For me, people management is my most important job,” Lancelot says. “You get exponential impact from having really great people on your team as compared to your personal impact, and I am very lucky for having been able to build the team that I manage as the Classifieds business continues to grow at a rapid pace. It is quite an honor to lead such a driven and engaged group of business people with legal skills.”

Photo: Joe Okpako

The Roots of Success

Family has always been a strong foundation for David Lancelot, from hearing tales of the steelworks and coal mines from his Welsh relatives to having his father’s work ethic ingrained in him at a young age.

To this day, little has changed as a foundation in Lancelot’s life, as the first person he credits for his success is his wife.

“I think it was the same for my dad, and I think it’s the same for a lot of people in my position, whether it’s their husband, wife, or partner,” Lancelot says. “The fact that we are able to move all over the place, have kids, and that I’m still able to put in this pretty significant effort is all down to her. Every strong leader needs a great partner next to them. I also give a lot of credit to the ebay legal/GR team. My previous manager, and now the general counsel’s support has been critical to my success at ebay, including the work that I do at Becoming ebay and integrating with the leadership team of the ebay Classifieds business.”