Belinda Johnson Steers Airbnb Through Regulatory And Legal Turbulence

By Tracey Lien
Los Angeles Times.

The gig: Belinda Johnson, 48, is chief business and legal officer at short-term home rental company Airbnb. She joined the San Francisco firm, now valued at $25 billion, in 2011 as its first general counsel and one of its first executives. In July, she became Chief Executive Brian Chesky’s right-hand woman, putting her in charge of global public policy, community mobilization, communications, human resources, philanthropy and compliance in addition to the company’s legal affairs.

Early Internet: After graduating from law school at the University of Texas in Austin in 1991, Johnson spent the next few years working at traditional law firms in Dallas. But it wasn’t long before tech came calling. In 1996 she joined a nascent Internet radio streaming company called AudioNet. “The Internet was so new then, this was back when I still had a Dictaphone at my desk, and I was really drawn to it,” she said. AudioNet, later renamed, grew quickly, and in 1998 the company went public. In 1999, Yahoo bought it for $5.7 billion. Yahoo also got Johnson as part of the acquisition.

She moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2000 and spent the next 12 years at the Internet company, 10 of them as deputy general counsel for product, litigation and privacy.

Airbnb: By 2011, Johnson was ready to move on. She didn’t know exactly who she wanted to work for, but she knew what energized her most: consumer-facing, hyper-growth companies that were in their earliest stages, much like AudioNet was in ’96, and, to a lesser extent, Yahoo in ’99. Airbnb, then a 3-year-old company with no legal counsel and big ambitions, crossed her radar. “I immediately understood the power of its community, and that this was an amazing company and an amazing opportunity.” She came on board as the company’s first lawyer.

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