eBay CEO Whitman '77 resigns, considers politics
After University trustee Meg Whitman ’77 revealed on Jan. 22 that she would step down from her post as CEO of eBay, Inc., at the end of March, reports began to circulate that Whitman planned to enter the realm of politics.
“I believe 10 years is the most time just about any CEO should serve,” Whitman said in an e-mail to The Daily Princetonian. “A fresh set of eyes is critical to the life of any company.”
Whitman will also remain active in the University community. In 2002, Whitman made a $30 million donation to the University to construct a new residential college, which now bears her name.
“I love Princeton,” she said. “Whenever the University calls, I try to help.”
According to The Los Angeles Times, Whitman had been exploring the prospect of running for governor of California in 2010 during talks with “top Republicans.”
Whitman, who officially joined the Republican Party in 2006, was the finance co-chair for former Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney before he announced that he would end his campaign for the GOP nomination.
Whitman confirmed her interest in politics, noting, “I saw a lot of politics up close this past year as I helped my friend Mitt Romney run for President.”
Whitman added that she “also met a few Republicans in California who wondered whether I might be interested in running for office someday.”
Whitman said, however, that she is not committing to any campaign ambitions. “Frankly, until Mitt’s campaign, I was not politically active, and I don’t see myself running for office,” she said. “But Mitt’s campaign gave me a deep appreciation for the political process, and I’ll probably continue to support candidates I believe in.”
A potential foray into politics would place Whitman in a long tradition of American financial and corporate giants who have made the transition into politics.
“There’s a long history of this kind of course,” associate chair of the politics department Christopher Achen said. “A recent example is [New Jersey Gov.] Jon Corzine, but there have been examples throughout American history.”
A background as a CEO can be beneficial for a politician, Achen said. “It gives you executive experience of a certain kind, and that’s valuable,” he said. “The challenge is to recognize that politics is a different line of work and to make the necessary adjustments.”
Whitman would benefit from being able to finance her own campaign. According to Forbes Magazine, her net worth is estimated at $1.4 billion.
“Under the current campaign finance laws, it is certainly an advantage to have private money,” Achen said.
Whitman would not be guaranteed success in politics, however. “It’s been done of course,” Achen said, but “not everyone who tries it is successful.”
Under her leadership, eBay grew from just 29 employees within the United States to more than 11,000 employees worldwide. Whitman has been selected as one of Time Magazine’s most influential people numerous times.
John Donahoe, who is currently in charge of eBay’s online auctions operation, has been appointed to replace Whitman.
Whitman plans to remain involved in the company. “For the next several months, I plan to help eBay’s new CEO make a seamless transition,” Whitman said.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” Whitman said. “I’ve learned more about business and life than I could ever have imagined. And I’ve had great fun along the way. I was truly blessed with the opportunity to lead eBay for 10 years.”
Whitman says she will continue to serve on several corporate boards and will spend time working on the charitable foundation she and her husband formed.
After earning her degree in economics, Whitman earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and worked at Proctor & Gamble. She then moved on to the consulting firm Bain & Company, where she worked with Romney and Donahoe.
Whitman has two sons currently enrolled at Princeton, Griff Harsh ’08, who lives in Whitman College, and Will Harsh ’11, who lives in Wilson.
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