OWhen business leaders begin to discuss their efforts to influence corporate culture, a healthy dose of skepticism is in order. But Murray Lambell, the British boss of US online retail giant eBay, can draw on personal experience of the importance of how a business takes care of its staff. For many years, he hid his sexuality from colleagues in a culture that was “more muted and suffocating internally.”
“It was probably my own baggage,” he says. “I wasn’t comfortable being at work… A lot of the management was white, middle-aged, from a very specific demographic and academic background, which didn’t sit well with me at all. I didn’t feel comfortable being a complete person at work and it limits you.
So what emboldened him? Until now, Lambell spoke brightly, under the vivid images of graphic designer Alba Blázquez against the bright backdrop of eBay’s UK headquarters in west London. He takes a deep breath, visibly moved. “I was married and my partner died. I had to come to work for the first time and tell my boss, “Oh, by the way, I’m gay and my partner is actually in the hospital right now.”
“I was thinking, ‘I shouldn’t be dealing with this issue right now, as I’m trying to deal with an existential crisis.’ I had to deal with too many things at once. I realized that there was probably nothing to worry about.
Lambell says his bosses at the time in 2014 were ‘horrified’ that he hadn’t felt comfortable discussing his sexuality earlier and that the experience encouraged him to process inclusivity employees as a “moral obligation”. (The board is now more diverse, and he’s taking a course from Yale University on the subject.)
Family He has a partner, Robin.
Education BA in French and History from the University of Exeter and Masters in Business Administration from London Business School.
Pay Not disclosed. “More than I expected to earn, less than you think.”
Last holidays Elijah in Fife, Scotland.
Best advice ever given “Deliver, deliver, deliver,” by former eBay chief customer officer Wendy Jones.
Sentence he abuses “History does not predict the outcome.”
how he relaxes Other than running – “To show my 25s
nephew who is the fastest” – he is trying to learn new languages. “Currently, I’m doing well in Spanish and OK in Farsi!”
Not that eBay’s recent culture has been faultless. Last week, two former executives in the United States were jailed for their part in a harassment campaign against a couple who published a newsletter criticizing the company.
Five other employees, who have also all since left, pleaded guilty to their role in the bizarre scheme, which included sending live cockroaches, a funeral wreath and books about surviving the loss of a spouse to the home of the couple. “It’s not something that I recognize about our company and what we stand for,” Lambell said, speaking before the sentencing, but added that there is “still work to be done”.
We meet as eBay faces two tumultuous global headwinds: the sharp sell-off in US tech stocks and the impact of a prolonged cost-of-living crisis on discretionary spending. Both require the California-based company to build on the resilience that allowed it to create the first major online marketplace and sustain it for 27 years as its web 1.0 peers crumbled.
Not that his British home on a cobbled square by the River Thames in affluent Richmond is reminiscent of Silicon Valley. A solitary foosball unit is the only nod to tech work culture, and each meeting room has a quintessentially British name and theme (we’re sitting in Bond, a 007 silhouette etched in glass) .
The stock sale proved painful for eBay. The pandemic shift to online shopping pushed the stock to all-time highs above $80 last October, but it has since fallen 46% as restrictions eased, valuing it just a little higher. of $20 billion.
In August, it announced that gross merchandise volume – the value of all the goods it sold – fell for the fifth straight quarter, down 18% to $18.6 billion. Active buyers fell 12% to a still respectable 138 million.
Lambell is unwavering: “It’s a long game. So the pandemic [drove a different] mix of categories – we now have economic pressures. Supply chains will have to adapt to move. Consumers will want to buy things from a trustworthy and trustworthy platform and we provide that to them. »
He admits that some categories such as home and garden products are “going through a total hangover” after a pandemic boom. Meanwhile, discounted and refurbished products are selling well.
So should we expect busy Brits to be looking for a second-hand Christmas? “We’ve had two years of total disruption – people are still going to splurge but I think they’re much more planned about it. They’ll be planning and spreading out their spending over several months.
Lambell’s job also includes nurturing and promoting sellers of products that “hit the zeitgeist”, such as solar panels and air fryers that were much sought after during the energy crisis.
This hunt for the next trend led eBay to acquire KnownOrigin, the Manchester-based non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace this summer. Lambell says the agreement brings “our web 1.0 closer to this web 3.0 world.” He envisions eBay’s army of collectors photographing their sought-after treasures – such as works of art – and selling NFTs of them. “Obviously the market still has a lot to do – it’s still very early days.”
Part of Labell’s strategy is to convince high-end fashion brands to list ex-display and imperfect inventory instead of dropping or previously burning unwanted items to avoid devaluing the product. “For years, eBay was considered the pariah of these brands. They hated having their stuff resold…and you saw [that] type of horrible behavior,” he says, adding that conversations are now at “different levels of maturity” with brands looking to sell inventory in neatly curated parts of his site.
The company’s high-end business has also grown thanks to its authentication service, launched last year for watches, handbags and sneakers, which saw it handle for the first time physically products in warehouses. Growing consumer concerns about waste should drive sellers and buyers to eBay, he adds.
Lambell’s recent eBay search history points to his early career – a former Swissair drinks cart he spotted on a recent trip to Switzerland sent him down a rabbit hole online, reliving his postgraduate years with British Airways. He quit his job with the airline after witnessing a strike that enraged passengers in Terminal 4 at Heathrow. “It was almost a riot,” he recalls.
The Canterbury native’s worldview was also shaped by his parents’ struggles in the final days of running their haulage business. “It was very emotional to see what they went through – these great partners were putting so much pressure on them in terms of costs that they couldn’t provide the service they were proud to provide.”
Does he keep that in mind when dealing with thousands of small businesses? “Yeah, [although] I would never say that to companies directly. I think they would say, ‘It feels like spin’.