Jacobson's day-to-day responsibilities include managing his department, acting as "chief lawyer" and advising the board of directors. He relishes his business responsibilities. "I think one of the great glories of in-house practice is the relationships you build up with your business colleagues and it's certainly one of the things that I enjoy most," Jacobson said. "Working to come up with creative solutions to how they can accomplish their business goals without running afoul of laws and remaining fully compliant."
He finds that a certain amount of innovation is called for when working on the legal side of a cutting-edge company like eBay. He is one of the primary contacts for the board and is heavily involved in everything covered during board meetings, including governance, litigation and other business risks, and mergers and acquisitions. He reports to President and chief executive officer John Donahoe.
ROUTE TO THE TOP
Jacobson describes himself as old-fashioned in the sense that he's had only two jobs in his career. After law school, he joined the firm now known as Cooley. He worked on the corporate side, with a little bit of venture capital-related advising when he started. He shifted to financing fairly quickly, he said, describing himself unapologetically as one of the great experts on off-balance-sheet financing in the 1980s. This refers to a legal accounting method that keeps debt off a company's balance sheet as a liability, making it appear more credit-worthy. The technique has legitimate uses but is subject to abuse Enron Corp. shifted billions of dollars in liabilities off its balance sheet before its collapse.
Later, Jacobson moved into mergers and acquisitions. He remained in finance into the 1990s. "As time went on, I became more and more intrigued by the notion of being involved with the business side of the clients. And, in particular, being involved in things like financings and transactional work earlier in the process, before it actually gets brought out to outside counsel, and then having more of an ability to influence the success or lack of success of the deal later."
At the time, eBay's chief financial officer was a former business partner of Jacobson's. At Cooley, "I was generally not viewed as one of the wild-assed entrepreneurial types who would go off and do the wild thing," he told Recorder sibling publication The National Law Journal in 1999. "But eBay offered me business opportunities that I thought were extraordinary. I had not seen many other companies I thought could become a Fortune 500 company in single-digit years." He remains eBay's first and only general counsel.
Jacobson was born in Boston and grew up in suburban Newton, Mass. He earned his bachelor's degree in economics from Harvard University in 1975 and his J.D. from Stanford Law School in 1981. His hobbies include skiing, hiking, reading, cooking and collecting wine. He is married to Trine Sorensen; they will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary on May 4. They have a 22-year-old son, Matthew Jacobson.
In 1999, the hot sellers on eBay included Barbie, Beanie Babies and Elvis memorabilia. Jacobson used the site to acquire old photographs and antique opera posters enjoying the artwork more than the actual opera, he said at the time. He remains a loyal customer but his purchasing pattern has grown more pragmatic he uses eBay to spare himself trips to the store. "There's no such thing as having enough power cords for all your electronics," he said.
LAST BOOK AND MOVIE
Thieves of Baghdad, by Matthew Bogdanos; The Avengers.
This article originally appeared in The Recorder.