The late 2000s was an interesting time to be working at one of the biggest investment banks. The year was 2008, and Shelly Lin had been at Goldman Sachs for three years. She had joined after graduating from Yale University with a bachelors’ degree in economics. Little did she know that she would have a front-row seat to one of the most tumultuous eras in the history of the American economy.
Like others around the country, Lin watched as defaults on subprime mortgages skyrocketed, the US housing market collapsed, and Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. These events, of course, were part of a global financial crisis, and Goldman Sachs and its clients weren’t immune from the challenges that plagued the industry. During that time, Lin was handling distressed debt restructuring on behalf of Goldman Sachs’ clients and working with outside law firms in an environment of constant change in both the financial and regulatory landscape.
Observing the effectiveness of the outside law firms opened her eyes to new possibilities. “I started to have a real admiration for great legal work, and I found it very intellectually stimulating,” she says. “A well-crafted corporate document survives you and can set the stage for the future. I wanted to be part of that.” After some time working with the outside law firms, Lin became interested in pursuing a law degree and enrolled at Columbia Law School.
Upon graduation from law school, Lin had job offers from multiple law firms but chose Simpson Thacher & Bartlett because of its strong reputation in mergers and acquisitions. She spent five years representing corporate and private equity clients as well as financial advisors in public and private mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, and other strategic transactions. During Lin’s time at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, she worked on transactions valued at over $70 billion in total.
The training and mentorship Lin received at Simpson Thacher prepared her to go in-house to manage domestic and cross-border deals at Interpublic Group, one of the largest publicly traded advertising companies in the world. During her time at Interpublic Group, she had the opportunity to work on IPG’s $2.3 billion acquisition of Acxiom.
Lin now serves as the lead M&A attorney at Ziff Davis (ZD), formerly known as J2 Global. The publicly traded, vertically focused digital media and internet company has a portfolio includes well-known brands like IGN, Mashable, PCMag, RetailMeNot, Speedtest by Ookla, DownDetector, BabyCenter, Moz, iContact, and VIPRE Security.
In this role, Lin works to help ZD evaluate potential partners as the company continues to grow through acquisition. Lin and the ZD M&A team look at about twenty deals per year and execute on approximately eight. Thus, speed and consistency are key. “M&A teams in fast-moving, high-growth companies need streamlined processes to be effective and add the most value,” Lin explains. Upon her arrival, she looked for opportunities to scale efficiencies, and she modernized ZD’s M&A function by introducing digital solutions and standardizing agreements to create a repeatable acquisition program.
ZD targets digital media and software companies that it can introduce into its company. Then, it enhances and scales those companies by applying cash infusions, legacy expertise, and operational excellence. Since Lin joined Ziff Davis, she’s closed the deals that have brought RetailMeNot, RootMetrics, Solutelia, Moz, DailyOm, Inspired eLearning, SpatialBuzz, Kickbox, and others to the company.
A broad portfolio helps Ziff Davis navigate uncertain times related to the global pandemic and other world events. While some businesses are down, other brands in technology, cybersecurity, entertainment, and health are up as more people work from home. Lin, who has already lived through challenges like the 2008 global financial crisis, is unfazed by the pandemic.
“Leaders should focus on what they can control and how to navigate different scenarios, rather than things beyond their control,” she says. “It’s important to be prepared and move forward using the information you have to safely execute an overall plan with confidence.”
That strategy will take Lin and Ziff Davis into the future. The company has deployed more than $2.8 billion of capital since 2013, and Lin is using her proven strategy to continue the upward trend.
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP:
“We have had the pleasure of working closely with Shelly Lin for many years. She is both extremely talented and an excellent, forward-thinking leader who consistently sets a high bar for the industry.”
–Jakob Rendtorff, Partner