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When people use your brand name as a verb, that is remarkable....

Power, politics, public-life, history, economics, and intellect - if one seen, in good measure, all those in one's lineage, and moreover, inherited a great deal of those qualities - it doesn't make it easy for that person to take on life the vagaries of life. In fact, one is ever-burdened by the weight of hopes and expectations riding on one's shoulders because of them. But, Margaret Whitman, the President and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, has been able to do it with consummate ease, so to say. Of the many great successes that embellish the career of Whitman, it's her work with e-commerce giant, eBay, which stands out. She will be remembered, more than anything else, for the stupendous success and growth which eBay achieved with her at the helm, from a company of just 30 employees with revenues of $4 million to an $8 billion global enterprise with a head-count of 15,000.More than this astonishing growth, Whitman's stamp is visible in the important role that eBay is playing today in millions of transactions the world over - it has greatly transformed the way people looked at selling and buying.

Early Days

Margaret Whitman was born (August 4, 1956) in Long Island, NY, to Margaret Cushing and Hendricks Hallett Whitman, Jr., who worked on Wall-Street. She had her schooling from the Cold Spring Harbor High School in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. She is said to have been a top-ten in the class student and who wanted to be a doctor -which aspiration lead her to Princeton University, where she studied math and science. For one year after graduation, she sold advertisements for a magazine - a job which she quit to resume her studies in economics, and got her B.A. with honors in 1977. She followed it up with an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School in 1979.

Coming out of Harvard, she joined Procter & Gamble as a brand manager; joined Bain & Company-business-consulting firm-as a consultant shortly afterwards, and rose through the ranks to become its senior vice-president. From then on upto 1998, she went on to assume high-profile positions at various big firms like The Walt Disney Company (Vice-President, Strategic Planning), Stride Ride, Florists' Transworld Delivery (President & CEO), and Hasbro (Division General Manager, Playskool).

Silicon Valley beckoned

There may not be any debate on whether or not her pedigree had played a significant role in one of the most important decisions of her life Whitman made-that of moving to the Silicon Valley to take over the reins of an up-start company. It appeared logical for someone hailing from a progressive family to continually seek challenges, which fuelled her unbridled ambition to be the best at whatever she did - a student, a wife, a mother and a successful career-woman.

While that being so, it is quite possible that one of her early stints at the top of a company, FTD, may perhaps have driven her, so inadvertently, towards e-commerce. The difficulties FTD had to contend with in terms of everything from order-to-customer, and the constant struggle to beat the complexity of it all, made her spot the potential that eBay possessed.

And, she wasted no time in aligning her future with that of this small yet promising company. She joined eBay in 1998. The fact that the company had about 30 employees and, revenues of just about $4 million, did not deter her from making this switch, which if it hadn't turned out the way it did ultimately, would have spelled doom for her career. But, being the visionary and gifted person that she was, Whitman did not fail to notice the promise eBay held for her, for businesses, and the world in general.

From then on, she built, almost designed, every bit of eBay to perfection -a new executive team, processes, a new website (to replace the apparently, down-beat & life-less one), categories of business, and the entire thought-process of the company.

Right after putting in-place a new-look website, colorful logos, international sites with unique branding, and an executive team, etc., she now set about re-modeling the company's business. She split the company into 23 business categories, assigning an executive to each one of them. A strategy that has worked so well in a sphere where there is acute customer-segmentation with different needs for each of them.

The flight of eBay

All these efforts, driven on by the passion of eBay's founder (Pierre Omidyar), and Whitman's astute leadership, have led to eBay creating a presence in 39 markets (35 by the time Whitman quit, including partnerships and investments) with more than 90 million users worldwide, and trading more about $2,000 worth of goods each second.

Then, in 2002, when the eBay community expressed their preference to using PayPal as an online payment method, Whitman led one of the smartest acquisitions in modern corporate history. eBay acquired PayPal bringing in new efficiencies to e-commerce and redefining possibilities for eBay's future.

eBay did not stop there with its M&As, and went on to acquire innovative businesses, such as, StubHub, Bill Me Later and others, which helped the company position itself as the global leader in e-commerce and payments.

Whitman also led eBay's the purchase of Skype for $4.1B in cash and stock in September 2005 (Two years after she stepped-down from the CEO's post i.e. in 2009, Skype was sold by eBay at a valuation of $2.75B). Then, after about 6 years, came the turn of the shake-up of the management team. She stepped down from the eBay CEO's post after a decade in office (2007-08).

She also served on the board of directors of the eBay Foundation, Procter & Gamble and DreamWorks SKG, until early 2009. She was appointed to the board of Goldman Sachs in October 2001(she had to resign in December 2002, reportedly, amidst controversy that she had received shares in several public offerings managed by Goldman Sachs). In March 2011, she was appointed as a part-time special adviser at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. She has also joined the boards of Zipcar and Teach For America, and also, believed to have re-joined the board of Procter & Gamble.

Whitman joined Hewlett-Packard's board of directors in January 2011, eventually being named CEO in September, 2011 and, if initial reports are anything to go by, then -despite some calling for her head- she is set to have a definite impact on HP too, which has been forced to contend with a fiercely competitive market. She has renewed HP's focus on Research & Development , besides retaining and recommitting the firm to the PC business that looked like on the verge being wound-up by her predecessor.

Public life

Public life was in her genes - her patrilineal great-great-great-grandfather, Elnathan Whitman, was a member of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. She is also a great-great-granddaughter of U.S. Senator Charles B. Farwell, of Illinois (through her father's side). On her mother's side, she is a great-granddaughter of historian and jurist Munroe Smith and a great-great-granddaughter of General Henry S. Huidekoper. So, not many were surprised when she gave vent to her political aspirations, ever so subtly, in 2008 by, initially, being a supporter of Mitt Romney (whom she had worked with at Bain & Company) during his presidential campaign, and was later on his national finance team as well exploratory committee until Romney stepped out of the race. She then joined McCain's presidential campaign as a national co-chair (McCain mentioned Whitman as the possible Treasury Secretary, during one of the debates).

In 2009, she announced her candidacy for the Governor of California, and won the Republican primary in June 2010. She has, reportedly, spent $178 million –including donations- more of her own money ($144 million) on the race than any other political candidate spent on a single election in American history. Whitman emphasized three major areas: job creation, reduced state government spending, and reform of the state's K-12 educational system. She argued that it is best to start only a few things and finish them, instead of starting a lot of things and finishing few of them. However, Whitman lost to Jerry Brown in the November 2 (2010) election.


Whitman is known to have held strong views about a myriad aspects ranging from education, environment, illegal immigration, to marriage, abortion, marijuana, and infrastructure, which she has voiced across many forums and platforms.


Whitman has two sons with her longtime husband, Griffith R. Harsh IV (a neurosurgeon at Stanford University Medical Center), and the family lives in Atherton, California.


Whitman founded a charitable foundation called the Griffith R. Harsh IV and Margaret C Whitman Charitable Foundation, with husband Harsh in December, 2006, for which purpose she donated 300,000 shares of eBay stock worth $9.4 million. By the end of its first year of operation, the foundation had $46 million in assets and has disbursed $125,000 to charitable causes. Most of the money disbursed is said to have gone to the Environmental Defense Fund.

Awards & Accolades

awards_mwShe was inducted into the U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2008.
awards_mwNamed among the top five most powerful women by Fortune magazine, on more than one occasion.
awards_mwHarvard Business Review named her the eighth-best-performing CEO of the past decade.
awards_mwFinancial Times named her as one of the 50 faces that shaped the decade.


*"When people use your brand name as a verb, that is remarkable."
*"Most of us can't even begin to imagine."
*"Guess what? The world changes. eBay has defined e-commerce."
*"For me, the international expansion of eBay was the best idea. We are now in 35 countries, and have a huge global network. The second best one was the acquisition of PayPal - the wallet on eBay."
*"I think maybe it is about time for a governor who has created jobs, who's managed a budget, who's led and inspired large organizations, who listens well, and who can drive an agenda."

*"I want to spend 100 percent of my time focused on what I think I can make the biggest difference on as the governor of California."

*"I'm not a career politician. I spent 30 years in business. I can tell you that people in California have had it with career politicians: they are done."

*"We have always said that advertising is just the icing on the cake. It is not the cake."

Hope viewers caught up the spark...