Jay Grant, chief legal officer at The Trade Desk, focuses on leadership that encompasses inclusive input and context, and expresses his desire to hire with curiosity in mind.
What led you to your current role with The Trade Desk?
I started as a litigator at Manatt, Phelps and Phillips and joined Univision Communications in-house on the opportunity to be a generalist in the early years of the company’s growth. I had the good fortune to have a practice anchored in multiplatform media enterprise growing over a couple of decades while rounding out my skills. I saw only a few companies with both a laser-focused commitment to mission as well as the reach and ability to shift the global media experience. The Trade Desk (TTD) was one.
My conversations with the TTD executive team, board members and department attorneys confirmed the company’s vision, discipline and commitment to culture. Working with the team I have seen that we have the heart and grit to realize that mission. I feel compelled to get up every day and work toward that common goal.
Please tell us about your leadership style. Who and what has influenced it?
I focus on four things: collaboration, pragmatic-efficiency, inclusive input and context. Collaboration leads everything because it is about the enterprise not a personal desire or solo achievement. Companies with a strong mission and purpose can focus a team driving everyone equally while minimizing friction and distractions that prevent goal achievement.
I try to be pragmatic: We are in the practical solution business – not the theory business. If we make the best practical decision in an efficient manner, without letting analysis-paralysis, fear of failure, or perfection overcome a solid commercial solution, then we have a good chance for success. Lead with choices you know that you will live with, not ivory tower pronouncements. Inclusive input is a key component to achieving pragmatic, efficient solutions. Huddle meetings and impromptu squad meetings – 3 or 4 people getting as much input in early – bring the best ideas out early and often. You get to better answers sooner.
Context is essential. I try to spend time sharing the background on issues that we are trying to solve and to connect the dots regarding priorities or focal points around the company. This helps our team understand the underlying issues that need to be addressed. This means getting people involved early in matters. My father used to say he would be there for me at the crash, but I had to let him be part of the take-off to be of any help. I try to apply that in working with our team daily.
I am influenced by professional heroes like Vernon Jordan and early mentors. In my early career at the law firm and beginning in-house years, I reported to several partners and general counsel who were female, which at a time was not common. Watching them navigate situations, persuade others and lead teams, despite underrepresentation, helped shape my approach significantly.
What qualities do you seek when hiring people for your team?
A natural curiosity for our business goes a long way. Critical thought based on a variety of inputs, questioning assumptions and reasoned logic toward solutions are trademarks of our team. Our best team members have a combination of EQ, judgment and a balance of legal/business acumen that makes them solutions-oriented and strategic thinkers not tactical thinkers. We value vision, openness, agility and grit among other traits.
We are a data-driven company with a big mission to maintain a free and open internet and larger media ecosystem. I look for people who can telescope between the details or data and the lofty goals and business strategic objectives. These people are best suited to synthesize the complex and isolate the critical. If you can do that and remain authentic about who you are, then I want to be on a team with you.
What is the most valuable career advice you’ve received?
The best advice related to listening and discomfort. One: never underestimate the power of actively listening. You would be surprised where that mindset takes you when you consider all the inputs you are receiving rather than thinking about how you will respond. Two: most of your career is about optimal anxiety. You will have doubts about what you know and can accomplish. You will feel like the most ignorant person in the room. Those traits will force you to reach for the best in yourself and others. It will humble you to do things you could not imagine. Be comfortable with the discomfort.
What changes or advancements are you hoping to see within the legal profession?
I hope and expect to see continued advancements in underrepresented groups helming leadership positions at law firms and in-house: women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals or others. Diversity is a strength at TTD and any company hoping to be at the forefront of industry because the output can only be as rich as the input. We see that globally at TTD, and I expect that the legal profession has learned that embracing diversity as a strength and enhancing inclusion separates the leaders from the laggards.
I also am looking forward to technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning expanding the role of legal professionals. TTD provides AI products to our clients (e.g., Koa™) to their benefit and our profession can take advantage of the same. These advances will expand opportunity to focus on the strategic advice. E-discovery, contract management and electronic billing are only the beginning of freeing attorneys to focus on their role as trusted advisor and business partner.
Published June 8, 2021.