Today, Jeff is executive chair of the board of priceline.com, the incredibly successful travel discount web site. Based in Norwalk, Connecticut, priceline.com is regarded as one of the leading U.S. travel services for value-conscious leisure travelers. Jeff served as the company’s CEO from 2002 until late 2013, when he left the CEO role as part of a long-term succession plan.
As a nonexecutive chair, Jeff no longer oversees priceline on a day-to-day basis. “I work on governance matters and higher-level strategic issues.” Jeff says. “I have additional time to focus on some other endeavors—I’m currently building a private investment business and also spend time working for my alma mater as the chair of the board of trustees at St. Lawrence University.”
Jeff notes that his experience at S&C has helped him throughout his career. “The training you get in transactional environments at a firm like S&C is at the highest levels,” he says. S&C helped Jeff adopt an analytical mind-set that, he explains, allowed him to be “more engaged in the deal process and think more quickly on my feet.” And priceline.com is transactionally very active, executing numerous merger-and-acquisition, financing and marketing deals during Jeff’s tenure at the company; the skills he honed on transactions at S&C got a considerable workout.
Jeff also credits his experience opening S&C’s Melbourne office with helping him successfully expand priceline during his tenure. “One of our greatest opportunities was the fast-growing market in Europe,” he says. “Because I was overseas with S&C, I had a deeper perspective on international business.”
That perspective encompassed more than legal work: “When we arrived, we didn’t have an office. We didn’t have any clients!” he remembers. “In a way, Jeff Browne and I were marketers, trying to develop the office and its client base. We were pioneers, U.S. lawyers trying to navigate the Australian legal market and help our clients with their unique legal and business challenges.”
After leaving S&C, Jeff went on to become a partner at Robinson & Cole and then assistant general counsel for Lord, Abbett & Co. He then worked at Oxford Health Plans as its executive vice president and general counsel until he joined priceline in January 2000 as its executive vice president and general counsel.
Jeff was drawn to priceline for the opportunity to work at a young Internet company that was expanding worldwide. While he was brought on in January 2000 to do transactional work, including joint ventures in a general counsel capacity, the position quickly evolved into more of a general management role, and he became COO by the end of the year.
This shift away from a traditional general counsel role was a testament to Jeff’s holistic understanding of businesses work. “Some general counsel have a narrow legal role,” he explains. “Others have a broader role that goes beyond the purely legal. Even though I was the general counsel, my experience in negotiating and completing deals was very valuable to a corporate senior management team.” Jeff credits this transactional experience, along with his work in helping turn around the ailing Oxford Health, for his successful shift from general counsel to COO and, later, CEO.
Today, Jeff enjoys helping priceline explore new strategic horizons. “The board has special meetings where we don’t talk at all about current business,” he says. “We talk about the future, the marketplace as a whole, and areas where dramatic changes are taking place.”
Jeff offers solid advice for young lawyers, gleaned from the many turns his career has taken.
“Many lawyers and financial guys focus on their piece of the puzzle, without seeing the entire picture,” he explains. “I always tried to figure out what was going on beyond my narrow area of responsibility. When I was working as a lawyer, I always tried to understand, in the broadest sense, what was motivating my clients. Later, in-house, I tried to understand the numbers, to really understand accounting—which is crucial to a company’s success.”
“I think that this big-picture curiosity allowed me to take on broader responsibilities,” he continues. “Understand more than just the legal aspect of your work; that’s the best advice I can share.”
Dates at S&C: 1981–1988
Personal: Jeff lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, with his wife and three children.
Hobbies: Fly fishing, skiing and music.