For Karin Schwab, the California dream has come true

After a few years at eBay in Switzerland, Karin Schwab moved to the United States in 2013. FRS

The Swiss Karin Schwab is a member of eBay’s top management in California. She is responsible for the legal department and plays a key role in closing important contracts for the company. She wants her modeling career to inspire young women.

This content was published on March 16, 2022 – 13:30

Mariangela Mistretta

We speak to Karin Schwab on a January morning as the sun shines over Silicon Valley. In California, it is not uncommon to experience warm spring days in the middle of winter. Karin Schwab says she couldn’t live without the California sun. Still, the snowy Swiss Alps stand out against its Zoom wallpaper. “I went there for Christmas with my family, we went skiing,” she says.

People living abroad know that feeling: “Every time I come back, I think, ‘Oh, this is my home’”. She says she still has very good friends in Switzerland, “and even though we don’t see each other often, it’s like living just around the corner”.

The Swiss of San Francisco

SWI profiles Swiss who live in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area and excel in their work or in their lives. The series is produced by journalist Mariangela Mistretta.

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Karin Schwab, who grew up in Freiburg, moved to Silicon Valley nine years ago. She arrived with extensive experience in online marketplaces and e-commerce in her luggage. She previously worked for eBay in Bern, where she led the company’s European legal team. His boss asked him to move to California to help reorganize the legal department. A unique opportunity that eventually took her to a very high level at eBay.

inspiring women

For a woman, such a path is still not easy, especially in the technology sector, which is still dominated by men. Karin Schwab, who has a daughter herself, says she was lucky. “When I started working at eBay, it was already an international company with a lot of smart women, who held leadership positions while having a family. The company was even run by a woman at the time.” Nevertheless, according to her, inclusion is never self-evident. “In many companies, even the most committed, there is still a lot to do,” she says.

What is the recipe for its success? There are many aspects, Karin Schwab sums up: education, studies, but also the family values ​​with which one grows up. “In my case, it’s about working hard and delivering the best performance, at the right time.” In addition, she has a husband who is willing to put his wife’s career first and follow her abroad, which is not always the case.

“I grew up in Friborg, a city with two cultures and two languages. It probably shaped me too.” The founding partner of the law firm where she was interning, who had taken her under his wing, gave her three pieces of advice: “Do your PhD, study abroad and work for the best law firm in Switzerland’s lawyers.” This mentor told him: “Think big, going back will always be possible”. She followed his recommendations and left Freiburg. “If he hadn’t pushed me to this point, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she thinks.

E-commerce was still in its infancy when she decided to dedicate her dissertation to this area. “I thought it would be a big revolution,” says Karin Schwab. Today, after many years in this industry, she is still amazed at how long it took for online selling to become commonplace.

His decision to leave the famous Zurich law firm to join an international firm was unconventional at the time. At eBay in Bern, her responsibilities continued to grow until 2013, when she left Switzerland to take on a new position in the United States, tasked with restructuring the local legal team.

A legal service close to business

“The idea was to give the legal team an innovative role. We had to get rid of the cliché that it is painful to work with the legal department.” She wanted to bring the latter closer to business operations. To make this change, she first had to build trust. “I wanted to make people aware of the importance of positioning the legal department at the beginning of the creative process, when business opportunities arise and when it is possible for lawyers to influence the process, and not at the end, when the problems are there.”

eBay in numbers

Founded in 1995, eBay is one of the largest e-commerce companies in the world. Headquartered in San Jose, Silicon Valley, it operates in 190 markets. It has 152 million users and 19 million sellers worldwide.

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The law fascinates Karin Schwab, because not everything is black or white, “at least not in e-commerce and certainly not in the early years, when uncertainty still reigned.” She sees it as part of her mission to “find the shades of gray and take risks to make a deal happen.” As a manager, it is his job to encourage the people in his team to take risks and to support them in doing so. “It’s a culture that you have to build every day.”

Lots of Swiss friends

It has been a few years since she, her husband Marc and their daughter Eva settled in California. “We like living here very much. Many of our friends are from Europe, especially Switzerland. It wasn’t meant to be, but there is undoubtedly something that binds us together. She likes to make a braid on Sundays, make a raclette or a fondue, paint Easter eggs with onion skins with her daughter. “We like to keep our traditions alive,” she explains. At home we speak Swiss German and we listen to Swiss radio broadcasts.”

Ski holiday in Zermatt: Karin Schwab with her family and her dog Hannah on holiday in Switzerland. zvg

Does she ever think about returning to live in Switzerland? “For now, we’ll see each other here. But who knows what the future holds for us?” she replies. During the pandemic, the family has taken a few campervan trips through the wilderness over the past two years, to national parks.

Combining family and responsibilities is possible

The ties with Switzerland are still close. Karin Schwab is a member of the board of Valora, the group that mainly manages the kiosks in Switzerland. About the differences in corporate culture between Switzerland and the United States, she says: “When I’m in Switzerland, I feel two kinds of reactions to my work: some people appreciate what I do, others don’t – especially when it comes to balance between family and career. .” Still, she says it’s doable, and she hopes her role at Valora can inspire especially young women to adopt different models or a different mindset.

A few questions about eBay and global themes

Data scandals have fueled mistrust of major tech companies. What do you think?

It’s unfortunate. People assume that all big tech companies are bad. We also feel it at eBay, although we have a very different business model than companies that have to monetize with data.

[Il y a trois ans, son entreprise a créé un Conseil des données qu’elle préside. L’objectif est de contrôler la transmission de données à des tierces parties, ndlr]†

What is the impact of the pandemic on eBay?

It has accelerated development enormously and that is very positive. We have seen tremendous growth in the number of new sellers over the past two years. People who have had to close their shops or lose their jobs, especially women, have started selling items online.

Will the continued growth of e-commerce put retail at risk?

There will probably always be room for both, both for the in-store experience and for the convenience of the online experience. But I think retail is reinventing itself to provide a unique physical and emotional experience that is hard to replicate online.

What advice would you give a young person starting their professional career?

First, leave where you live and gain experience elsewhere. You discover parts of yourself that you don’t know yet. Next, don’t be afraid to have big goals and dream big things. It’s not arrogance. There are endless possibilities. Don’t think you’ll only get one or two.

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