"Inspirational Figures Meg Whitman's"
Inspirational Figures Meg Whitman’s Billion-Dollar Courage At last count, there were about 2,700,000 millionaires in business. Allegedly, she had the Wall Street Journal delivered the United States. Millionaires may seem increasingly com- to her dorm room; by itself this might be considered an act mon, but that might say more about the sinking value of the of courage in the disco era. dollar than the rising wealth of individuals. Many middle- But the real evidence of Whitman’s courage came upon class Southern Californians living paycheck to paycheck have her graduation from Princeton, when she chose to pursue a surprisingly high net worth thanks to twenty years of real an MBA from Harvard. Many children of the Sixties har- estate appreciation. Billionaires, however, are still quite rare, bored considerable ambivalence about ambition, but Meg and while dumb luck is often the greatest factor in the accu- Whitman had the courage and determination to pursue the mulation of such wealth (see Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s inter- highest academic achievement. She received her Harvard esting books Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan), MBA in 1979. Despite intense competition, Whitman we believe that certain individuals possess virtues that help luck strode forth with excellent credentials – and the courage find them. to keep learning. Some people – especially the envious type – may contend that eBay CEO Meg Whitman owes her billionaire status to CAREER AS EDUCATION being in the right place at the right time. This is partially Too many newly minted MBAs treat their degrees as a true, but we believe Whitman’s personal license for arrogance and spend the courage brought her to that right place, early years of their careers building and her professional courage made eBay reputations as insufferable know-it- the company of its time. Whether one alls. Not Meg Whitman. She appears aspires to great wealth, great achieve- to possess a secure sense of self, ments, or excellence of character, Meg which gives her the courage to listen Whitman provides an outstanding role with an open mind. Whitman’s model of the kind of person who has career path includes positions of managed all three. increasing responsibility at an Today eBay is the world’s largest impressive collection of well-known online marketplace, its PayPal unit is companies: Proctor & Gamble, Bain the leading online payment service, & Company, Disney, Stride Rite, and it’s Skype unit is the world’s lead- FTD, and Hasbro’s Playskool divi- ing voice-over-internet service. But sion. Not only did she bring great when eBay founder Pierre Omidyar value to each of these companies, but approached WhitmFan in 1998 to she also took important lessons from take over the company, she at first each experience. refused to leave her high level position at Hasbro for a “no- As William Meyers explained in the October 31, 2005, name Internet company.” Where did she find the courage to issue of U.S. News & World Report, “Moving from P&G to change her mind? And what skills and personality traits Bain to Disney to Stride Rite to FTD to Hasbro to eBay, made her the perfect choice for the role of CEO? she was often a new person in complex environments. She didn’t always have authority and had to work hard to quickly AMBITIOUS YOUTH earn the respect of new colleagues. She had to get things Knowing that even today women struggle for equal pay, done in places where she was not well known or well estab- equal opportunity and equal respect in the business world lished. And this required listening, learning, collaboration, and in our society, one can appreciate the challenges facing and building relationships based on influencing people.” Meg Whitman when she entered Princeton University in As a brand manager for Proctor & Gamble, Whitman 1974 to study for a career in medicine. While in school, her learned deep lessons about branding that later helped eBay interest shifted to economics, which ignited a passion for survive the great dot-com bust that destroyed so many other Internet companies. Specifically, she learned that branding ket caps collapsed, people did, in fact, write off the Internet is about customer focus, not marketing spiels. At Bain and to some extent. But if you actually look at the fundamental, Disney, she got a full education in the concepts of “profit underlying metrics throughout that period, they were very from the core” and “leveraging adjacencies,” which are fancy strong. When you look at the number of users coming on, expressions for stick to what you’re good at and things closely broadband penetration, number of people experimenting related to what you’re good at. with ecommerce and buying more online. It was fascinating, As she told the Financial Times, “I think companies can because the external markets were saying ‘This is a disaster’. only do a small number of things well. Over the past 50 And yet, I was looking at the numbers every month saying, years in the popular business press it’s been, you know, dou- ‘Nothing’s happened to the actual people who are doing ble down on the things you do well, find your core strengths, things on the Net.’” build on your core strengths.” Whitman realized that regardless of the stock market, the people who fueled her business were still there. So she kept THE COURAGE OF CLARITY her head while all around her were losing theirs, and eBay Before one can “profit from the core” or “leverage adjacen- kept growing. cies,” one must have the courage to see facts clearly and accept the reality of an organization’s or an individual’s THE COURAGE TO LEAD DIFFERENTLY strengths and weaknesses. When Whitman took the helm Meg Whitman is the CEO of one of America’s biggest of eBay, Internet companies were all the rage on Wall Street companies, but she doesn’t have an office. She works in a and in the press, despite the fact that very few offered more cubicle. Her highly developed sense of collaboration demands than fancy jargon and vague promises. it, just as it demands that she bring her senior staff to board Whitman’s experience helped her see through the “tech- meetings and actively engage the board in the company’s speak” to recognize the real, core business model for eBay: it decision-making. is a marketplace. She also recognized that – more than in No office, and no contract, either. As she told the Financial “It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you fix them quickly.” — Meg Whitman any other type of company – the customers therefore run Times, “We don’t have contracts at eBay. I’ve never had a the business. As she told SmartMoney Magazine, “So we contract...It’s worked out thus far. I’ve always believed that enable, not direct. We think of our customers as people, not if you want to get out of a contract you can. So I think it’s wallets. And that has implications for how we run the com- more about personal commitment.” Trusting others requires pany. We partner with our customers and let them take the courage, but must feel natural to someone who possesses the company where they think it’s best utilized.” Within two courage to let customers lead the business. When the compa- years of Whitman’s arrival at eBay, the user community grew ny was considering expanding the auction format to include from 750,000 to more than 7 million members. Clear vision fixed-price, in-season items, Whitman had doubts. “So we helped her see one of the chief roles of management any- talked to our users. And at eBay, which has been true from where: to remove obstacles from the paths of others. eBay’s 1998, our users are our best R&D lab.” job is to make buying and selling easier for others. Meyers put it beautifully: “Guided by Whitman, eBay is Whitman’s desire to see things clearly reveals itself in near- redefining the bedrock business principles, including leader- ly every interview. When the Financial Times asked about ship, that have anchored successful corporations since the eBay’s plans for Asia, Whitman replied, “I don’t like to use industrial revolution. In the process, Whitman has created a the word Asia because China, Korea and Japan are three very radically more democratic company, a model organization in different markets.” which the collective intelligence and enthusiasm of its 157 Whitman’s courage of clear thinking helped her steer eBay million customers determine and drive the daily actions of through the Internet bust of 2000-2001. Daniel Gross’s its 9,300 employees.” recent book, Pop: Why Bubbles are Good for the Economy, explains that economic bubbles, such as the historical boom THE COURAGE OF HUMILITY and bust cycles in railroads, telecommunications, and the We’d venture to say that more companies are destroyed by Internet, typically leave behind a complete infrastructure and the arrogance of the chief executive than by any other cause. public acceptance of the new technologies. Entrepreneurs Meg Whitman’s willingness to learn from others and from find these post-bubble periods ripe for exploitation. every experience constitutes the opposite of arrogance, and Whitman saw this for herself during the dot-com meltdown: has served her employers, coworkers, shareholders and cus- “...after the stock market bust, when all the Internet mar- tomers extremely well. L WEST COAST ASSET MANAGEMENT, INC., 2151 Alessandro Dr., Suite 100 • Ventura, California 93001 • (800) 967-9226 • www.wcam.com