Whitman, Meg

▪ 2002

      During a year when many Internet ventures had either failed or were struggling to survive, the on-line auction firm eBay Inc. continued to flourish in 2001. At the head of this thriving enterprise was president and CEO Meg Whitman. Under her leadership, revenues in 2000 totaled more than $430 million, an increase of 92% over 1999, and the percentage of sales that came from international business doubled between 2000 and 2001. Visitors to the firm's Internet site could find an array of offerings in more than 4,500 categories, ranging from automobiles to machine tools to clothing, jewelry, books, and dolls.

      When a corporate headhunter first approached her for the position in 1998, Whitman, then an executive with toy and game manufacturer Hasbro, Inc., was not interested. A visit to eBay's headquarters and the testimonies of many enthusiastic users impressed her, however, and she accepted the offer to lead the company. Whitman later commented that she quickly realized that eBay's strength lay in the fact that its services could not be duplicated by old-economy brick-and-mortar concerns because its job was to connect people rather than to sell them things.

      Margaret Whitman was born in 1957 and grew up in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., on Long Island. She earned her undergraduate degree from Princeton University in 1977 and a master's degree in business administration from Harvard University in 1979. From 1979 to 1981 she worked in brand management for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio. After moving with her husband to California in 1981, she joined the consulting firm Bain & Co. as a vice president and remained there until 1989. From 1989 to 1992 Whitman served as senior vice president of marketing at the Consumer Products Division of Walt Disney Co., where she played a major role in Disney's acquisition of Discover magazine. Again moving with her husband, this time to Boston in 1992, she became president of the children's shoe manufacturer Stride Rite, a division of Stride Rite Corp. Leaving Stride Rite in 1995, she accepted an offer to become CEO of Florists Transworld Delivery (FTD), a federation of commercial florists. There Whitman encountered opposition from staff members and member florists, who strongly objected to FTD's transformation into a privately held firm. She resigned from FTD in 1997 and became general manager of the Playskool division of Hasbro.

      One of Whitman's first responsibilities at eBay was to prepare the company for its initial public offering (IPO) in September 1998. She brightened the design of eBay's Web pages and walled off all firearm and pornography auctions into separate age-restricted sites; eBay later banned auctions of firearms and prohibited sales of tobacco, drugs, alcohol, animals, and body parts. At the IPO 3.5 million shares of eBay were offered at $18 per share; at the end of the first day, each share was valued at $47.1875. Whitman was described as “relentlessly optimistic,” and those who worked with her said that her ability to stay focused and positive set her apart from most executives.

David R. Calhoun

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Universalium. 2010.

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