Lyft’s General Counsel Proactively Drives To The Top
Kristin Sverchek, General Counsel of Lyft, has perfected taking a proactive approach to becoming one of the most respected business leaders in the growing sharing economy space. Even though her current position is remarkably disruptive, Sverchek started her legal career in a more traditional fashion. She spent five and a half years advising startup companies and investors on a broad range of corporate and commercial issues ranging from venture capital financing, to M&A transactions, to day-to-day commercial and corporate governance matters. While it’s not a surprise that her broad expertise garnered the attention of her venture capital clients, Sverchek thoughtfully focused on the skills that would eventually make her a natural choice for the role of General Counsel at Lyft. Joining Lyft led Sverchek to let go of the traditional path, which has proven useful as she navigates the new regulatory and professional landscape in front of her. Despite this huge change, Sverchek continues to consciously build upon her skills and develop new ones. She credits this proactive approach as a large contributing factor to her success.
Cementing the Position of the Legal Team
“While it is definitely unusual to bring in a General Counsel when a company only has thirty people, it was one of the things that most attracted me to Lyft,” says Sverchek. “In taking a forward-looking approach, I wanted to join a small company because it would cement the legal department as part of the corporate DNA and a core part of the culture.” Indeed, as Lyft has grown from 30 employees to well over 1,000 over the last four years, Sverchek’s decision has proven critical, especially when facing a tidal wave of novel issues in an industry that was nearly uncharted territory when Sverchek came on board. “By being a key player from the very beginning, I was able to build internal credibility that would have been much more difficult to obtain had I joined the company later in the game,” Sverchek explains. “Countless times I can rely on the fact that I’ve seen something play out in a certain way before and I have historical knowledge that’s hard to argue with. This continues to drive the kind of respect and support that is key to a legal department’s success.”
Proactively Influencing Key Decisions
While it’s tempting to look at businesses as entities on their own, completely separate from the people who work there, the actual people will frequently be the deciding factor in job satisfaction. In addition to becoming integrated in all parts of Lyft’s business early on, Sverchek’s focus on building and actively maintaining relationships with Lyft’s co-founders has been imperative to both her achievements at Lyft and her overall desire to come to work every day. “I cannot stress enough how important it is to really like the people you’re working for,” Sverchek says. “From our initial conversations and to this day, I have a tremendous amount of respect for John [Zimmer] and Logan [Green]. Even when we go through any number of business challenges, the personal relationship I’ve build helps put things in perspective.”
Sverchek’s proactive relationship-building approach has also afforded her the ability to frankly discuss and influence certain decisions that often touch on sensitive subjects, such as diversity. It isn’t a big secret that corporations, especially tech companies, struggle with the issue of diversity. In many ways, Lyft has actually been an outlier in terms of its focus on diversity both internally and externally. Externally, Lyft is quite focused on having a significant number of its drivers be women, and has successfully fulfilled this mission. Internally, Sverchek, as a prominent female General Counsel, is committed to the mission of diversity as well. Relying on her strong relationship with the founders, she has been a key advocate to make sure that Lyft’s senior leadership includes women. To date, Lyft’s senior leadership includes quite the impressive female roster: Kate Sampson (VP, Risk Solutions), Veronica Juarez (Head of Enterprise Initiatives and past Director of Government Relations), Komal Kirtikar (Director of Marketing), Tali Rapaport (VP, Product), and Kira Wampler (CMO). Without Sverchek’s proactive approach to first building relationships, then using those relationships to raise important issues, Lyft would not be the diversity leader it is today.
Know What You Don’t Know
Like many first-time General Counsel, when Sverchek took the job she often second-guessed herself. Her main concern was whether she was making mistakes because of not knowing she doesn’t know something. Sverchek asked Belinda Johnson, Chief Business Affairs and Legal Officer at Airbnb: “How do you know if you’re making a wrong decision?” Johnson response was that, over time, a company’s risk tolerance changes such that it is actually appropriate to make different decisions at different points in time. “Belinda’s advice allowed me to redefine the word ‘mistake.’ The reality is that sometimes you’re not wrong, but rather, a company’s risk tolerance changes,” Sverchek explains. “Exposing a company to risk in its early days sometimes just isn’t that big a deal because you’re focused on getting a product to market and identifying which areas are lacking. Obviously, as the company matures, exposure takes on a whole new meaning.” This more flexible approach has helped Sverchek stay confident in her decisions and navigate uncertainty.
Depending on your perspective, Sverchek’s ride at Lyft has been both bumpy and smooth. The company started off in a largely unregulated industry, has faced a significant amount of litigation, and has had to navigate a treacherous landscape of both competitors and government “do gooders.” On the other hand, Sverchek’s initial proactive approach has served her incredibly well in building trust, both with external partners and within the organization as well. She has focused on the right mix of business and relationship savvy so well that it’s almost hard to imagine this is actually her first role in-house. Sverchek’s success is a key example of how proactivity can drive in-house counsel to the top.
This article was originally published by Above the Law.