Tuning In to eHarmony

For Ron Sarian, the phrase “tuning in” means many things as vice president and general counsel of the global dating website, from familiarizing himself with the company’s technology to playing in a cover band at night

Look up the phrase “in tune” in the dictionary. You’ll find twenty-five separate definitions, none of which include “Ron Sarian, vice president and general counsel of eHarmony.” However, the phrase has many meanings in this attorney’s life, and lawyering is just one of them.

These days, riding his Honda motorcycle to eHarmony’s Los Angeles office is usually the beginning of yet another of his “best days ever.” Sometimes, he will switch it out for one of his Harley-Davidson motorcycles, which, along with his motocross vehicles, he uses for more recreational adventures.

Sarian has been at the global dating website since 2013. Prior to that, he spent twenty-eight years as a business and real estate litigator, with twenty of those years at the same firm, seventeen of which he was a partner. Since joining eHarmony, he hasn’t experienced one day of regret about leaving his past vocation. These days always include “loving the work” and “cranking away” at each new puzzle and conundrum experienced on a regular basis at one of the country’s largest dating services.

The diversity of those puzzles is vast. Yes, there is much legal complexity created when managing the love lives of roughly 600,000 active subscribers and about sixty million registered users around the world. The company name is a globally recognized symbol of excellence, and thus, the target of many imposters. Social media communications only exacerbate the issue. Protecting against copyright and trademark infringements and prosecuting patents are daily activities for Sarian and his eHarmony legal colleague April Bogler. Together, the two lawyers manage all in-house legal work, while outsourcing specialty, regional, and international concerns to trusted teams of niche attorneys, including DLA Piper, Fish & Richardson, and Orrick.

Naturally, client data security is a major concern on both a daily and long-term basis. Sarian was new to the online dating industry when he signed on as general counsel (having been married by then for almost thirty years) and was also new to the technological sphere. He quickly learned that the real adventure in online dating is in the digital security details.

The company’s successful love matches are the by-product of the constant evaluation and upgrading of an intense web of data computing and security practices. This in itself is informed by a myriad of details flowing from data breaches around the world.

DID YOU KNOW?

For the last two years, you would have found Sarian tuning his guitar, too, in his role as lead guitarist for the Los Angeles-based band Run DLA. Comprising lawyers and others who work at law firms, the band won that year’s “Law Rocks Los Angeles” competition at the Whisky a Go Go.

Much of eHarmony’s data complexity is due to the company’s immense database of user information (1.6 petabytes and counting) and the nature of its computational algorithms that match subscribers to their perfect partner. Upon signing up, eHarmony users complete a series of questionnaires designed to elicit their realities on the company’s patented “29 Dimensions of Compatibility” testing. The compatibility nexus is the brainchild of Dr. Neil Clark Warren, a clinical psychologist who treated thousands of couples over four decades of counseling practice. He collected data from about two hundred happily married couples and two hundred unhappily married couples. He then set out to discern their differences and discover the factors that suggested why the happy people got along. Millions of eHarmony users have been reaping the benefits of the insightful technology since the company launched in the United States in 2000.

While the technology provides extraordinary match-making success, it also comes with all the threats and concerns that are rampant in today’s hacking and phishing global marketplace. When Sarian first started, he was more on the side of legal rather than technology. He quickly learned, however, that preventing breaches was better than defending their consequent lawsuits, so a priority became fine-tuning the enterprise to reduce digital vulnerabilities and risk exposures.

Sarian built upon improvements that had been initiated to ensure eHarmony was utilizing industry-best practices. For example, financial transactions were migrated out to a service provider better suited to manage those specific types of challenges. Encryptions, passwords, and database connections were all changed to provide more complex security procedures, and “white hat hackers” (good guys who hack into other peoples’ data presence) were hired to discover vulnerabilities in existing systems. Audits, firewalls, and even staff on- and off-boarding procedures were reviewed and adjusted to prevent intentional or inadvertent leaks and gaffs.

Accordingly, Sarian has been making friends with cybersecurity folks as well as his legal counterparts around the world. The company has a vice president of technology, an information security engineer, many “trust and safety department” staffers who sniff out potential bad eggs, and more than sixty computer engineers who keep the user-facing—among other applications—working in, well, harmony.

It is here, in the social aspect of the company, that Sarian believes his litigator skills have proven most useful.

“Litigation was great preparation for corporate work,” Sarian explains. “I developed a sense of smell regarding often hidden, but potentially explosive issues, as well as the street smarts to know how to manage those challenges on the fly. The soft skills of excellent communication, implementing teamwork, and supporting many elements to achieve common goals are particularly valuable here, where facilitation of company principles is primary and helping people work together is critical to the business’ success.”

Consequently, Sarian prizes his close relationship with everyone in the corporation’s technology departments and attributes them, in part, with his comprehension of cybersecurity details. He also scours all the digital security information reported daily around the world to ensure he is always aware of breaking cybersecurity news and alert to how that information may affect the company. If things do go awry, Sarian is the first to be notified and will immediately coordinate the response plan, which includes invoking attorney/client privilege to ensure corporate privacy while the company sorts out the issues.

Being the face and voice of eHarmony in possible breach circumstances, Sarian gathers all available data, both legal and cyber, to inform his communications with his board of directors, government and industry regulators, media, and eHarmony clients.

Clearly, being “in tune” is a phrase that resonates with Sarian. Being in tune with one’s job enhances its enjoyability, and Sarian enjoys excellent compatibility with his boss, CEO Grant Langston, and his colleagues and workmates. He’s also in tune with emerging cybersecurity details and sees the future of the industry as that of a “Wild West,” where restriction is only through imagination. He keeps his bikes well-tuned to help carry him safely to and from the “best job ever.” In so many ways, these days, there’s a lot of well-tuned harmony in Sarian’s life.
_____

Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP:

Ron models the qualities of the best GCs. He is proactive, strategic in solving problems, and engages the best counsel, regardless of pre-existing relationships. He is supersmart—a true partner in helping tackle problems.

— Sheldon Eisenberg, Partner