Learning from eBay


Post By: Adam Turteltaub

If you work in compliance and ethics and have never spent time in a business unit, I want to suggest an illuminating and possibly personally enriching exercise.

Walk around your house, go down into the basement, climb up into the attic and find five things you think you could sell on eBay and make a little money from. Then, list them on eBay.

Periodically I’ve gone through great batches of selling on eBay. Years ago I sold a bunch of 1970s movie posters a cousin had given me when I was in high school, and he was working for a theater chain.

Of late I have been disposing of a large collection of vintage brochures and other items from the resort in Sun Valley, Idaho. For decades my parents had a home there, and I collected hundreds of vintage items that we had throughout the house. There were vintage photos, posters and ads on the walls, a 1950s Sun Valley-themed tin toy of a ski jumper that my kids, nephews and niece played with, and, even though no one in the family smokes, ashtrays and matchbooks going back to a Sun Valley of decades past.

Then my parents sold the house last year. When they did there was no reason to hold onto the items any longer.  So, it was time to start selling them.

Selling on eBay isn’t difficult, but there are a lot of steps involved. You have to photograph the items, write a description, decide how you want to ship them, secure the shipping supplies, respond to buyer inquiries and ship what you sell, and do so quickly.

It’s been a very good way for me to recoup my investment.

What I found, and I think you will, too, is it is also both a lesson in how to run a business and a good window into what your business people are dealing with every single day. Honestly, I’ve learned more about business from these sales than I have in the almost four decades I have spent working in business.

Postage costs money, but so do the envelopes and even the labels.  But, most importantly, everything takes time. Time to photograph. Time to write the description. Time to answer the questions from bidders and buyers. Time to package the items. Time to drive them to the post office.

So take the time to find a few things to sell on eBay. You will, hopefully, make a few dollars. You will definitely get a better appreciation of what it’s like to walk in your business people’s shoes, and you will better understand everything else they have in their mind and on their plate when you raise compliance issues and compliance obligations.


  1. Exposure to real life working conditions is a great step for any compliance person. For me, the best experience when I was in-house was to go into the field with working people and spend time with them on the job (when I started in a company many years ago, the lawyers were required to do that.) Selling on Ebay would also get you into the mind frame of a businessperson trying to sell and make things happen, handling all the details and trying to make money.

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