Throughout his career of building outstanding international legal functions, David Lancelot jokes that as a lawyer he was sometimes concerned that “the teacher was going to come check the work,” although that happens relatively infrequently. The former vice president and global head of legal at eBay Classifieds says that when the moment came for him, it was due to a $9.2 billion sale that would have to take place entirely remotely.
“I can’t imagine an international deal that big and that complex has ever been done this way before. We are talking about a deal that is approximately the sixth largest M&A deal globally in 2020 and 2021,” Lancelot says. When asked for any advice he has, he responds half-jokingly that “it would be to never do major M&A deal during the height of a global viral pandemic. It was incredibly challenging, but we got it done.”
The lawyer and his team accomplished successfully navigating the break-off and sale of eBay Classifieds Group (eCG) to Adevinta during the darkest months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The complex deal deserves immense recognition given the team’s ability to navigate the obstacles of operating during a significant global crisis.
Up close, it’s a multibillion-dollar M&A deal with a lengthy sale-to-close period from September 2020 to June 2021, drawn out due to the regulatory approval needed from multiple countries where Adevinta and eBay Classifieds operate.
Taking a step back, the deal took place entirely remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitating eleven hours a day on Zoom for months and almost eliminating the casual chat time and relationship building that normally forms the foundation of such large deals.
“When you’re in-person for meetings, there’s the opportunity to just go grab a coffee together or have a drink at night,” Lancelot says. “This process was just a Zoom meeting followed by the next meeting, and it was hard to build those personal connections.”
Another step back provides the complex context for why the deal even happened in the first place. After activist hedge fund Elliott Management bought a $1.4 billion stake in eBay, Lancelot’s previous employer, the group pushed the company to sell off ticket resale company StubHub and eBay’s extensive classifieds business.
Lancelot was put in a peculiar position. Along with a large cross-functional team working to untangle the eBay Classifieds Group’s systems and technology that were deeply connected to its parent company, Lancelot had to simultaneously help prep the company for sale.
“It was an auction with multiple interested parties,” Lancelot explains. “So we had to run thorough deep legal due diligence for multiple different companies at the same time.”
In short, Lancelot and the eCG legal team concurrently prepared for a sale to the potential buyers, who each underwent their own due diligence processes, while trying to accomplish the entire sale remotely and while untangling the company to be able to stand up on its own.
In many ways it’s a highly challenging M&A, but Lancelot, his team, and hundreds of internal stakeholders at eBay and many more external players pulled it off.
When Adevinta announced the successfully completed acquisition of eBay Classifieds Group in the summer of 2021, it provided Lancelot the opportunity to take stock of just how much he and his team had accomplished over the last few years.
“I am very glad that I had such a strong team who have been so conscientious at every level,” Lancelot says. “I work to build trust and a very strong esprit de corps, and I think it was valuable in going into what was a very challenging situation. It’s that spirit that really sustained the ECG legal team and the broader ECG business. I would never shirk on investing in that kind of culture.”
The lawyer has spent a great deal of time augmenting and refining his own leadership practices. He calls his philosophy a “self-actualization hierarchy” of sorts.
“It’s not about self-aggrandizement. It’s about the culture you’re building—based on an intentional vision and way of working as an outstanding in-house legal function. The culture’s north star is to lift everyone up and align their professional and personal goals with the business’s strategic goals,” Lancelot explains. “If you’re able to do that successfully, it drives authentic engagement where people are committed to the team and the businesses success.”
It’s an interesting moment for Lancelot, who has built out legal operations for eBay, Magex Ltd, and QVC UK, among others. While completing one of the most complex M&A deals of the year (or decade) should be more a highlight, the attorney seems to want to get back to his real passion: building legal teams that can take on the world.
“The best thing in the world for me is seeing people really blossom and go on to do amazing things,” Lancelot says.
With twenty years of international leadership and the business acumen of a lawyer who understands how to best enable business, there still seem to be big things on the horizon for Lancelot.
By once again proving he’s not confined to a time zone or a continent, Lancelot now has the ability to drive results everywhere.
Editor’s note: At time of release, David Lancelot is no longer at Adevinta.