Alibaba Group GC Tim Steinert '89 Talks to Students About Company's IPO and Personal Career Path

Steinert's Company, Alibaba Group, Debuted This Week on the NYSE

In the lead-up to today’s debut on the New York Stock Exchange, the China-based Internet e-commerce company Alibaba Group made big waves in the business world—as expected—with analysts predicting the largest stock exchange opening in U.S. history and a valuation set at more than eBay, LinkedIn, and Twitter combined.

So when the company’s general counsel, Tim Steinert ’89, visited Columbia Law School on September 10 for an informal discussion and Q&A, it was no surprise that students flocked to hear him speak. Over the course of an hour, Steinert discussed Alibaba’s IPO process, his work as an in-house counsel, and his own journey to becoming an executive at one of the world’s most successful companies.

“I always told him he’d be a big draw if he came,” said Benjamin L. Liebman, the Robert L. Lieff Professor of Law and director of the Center for Chinese Legal Studies, who introduced Steinert at the event. “I think what’s interesting about his career is that it wasn’t as predictable as it might have been, and he wound up in a pretty interesting position.”

After graduating from the Law School in 1989, Steinert moved to Beijing to practice corporate law as an associate at Coudert Brothers. His next associate position, at Davis Polk, brought him to Hong Kong in 1994. Five years later, Steinert was named a partner at Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer, where he focused on cross-border mergers and acquisitions and IPOs.

“The rule of my career is, I always want to keep doing something that’s interesting,” he told students. “Every piece of my career has had a contribution [to where I am today].”

Steinert’s transition from law firm partner to in-house counsel at a fairly new Internet startup in 2007 was set in motion by an old college friend who invited him to join the Alibaba team. The move, Steinert admitted, was risky at the time.

“It certainly surprised a lot of my friends and colleagues,” he said. “It was definitely quite a radical step from where I was.”

But during his seven years with the company, Steinert has seen Alibaba grow leaps and bounds. What used to be a 30-member legal department, he said, now has approximately 150 attorneys. As general counsel, Steinert spends a good deal of his time managing his staff, recruiting new talent, and structuring his office. Lately, however, his attention has been dedicated to the company’s impending IPO.

Last year, Alibaba ran into a roadblock when the Hong Kong stock exchange wouldn’t approve the company’s dual-class voting structure, which allows for a minority of shareholders to control a majority of the votes. The American IPO process at the New York Stock Exchange began this past summer, and, yesterday, Alibaba priced its shares at $68 apiece. The company was also valued at $167.62 billion, meeting many of the expectations set out for it earlier this year.


Posted September 19, 2014

Updated January 13, 2017