One of the reasons I went to the Womens’ Presidents’ Organization Annual Conference was the great line up of speakers, including Meg Whitman, most famous for running E-Bay and now, for running for Governor of California.
Meg Whitman was very funny, witty and talented at speaking off the cuff. Her candor and quick thought process was interesting to watch and listen to.
She graduated from Harvard Business School and worked at Proctor & Gamble right out of school. Business has always been her passion.
“No company changed my life like E-Bay. I joined because I was so impressed by the then-29 year old founder who had written the code in one weekend.” He [Pierre Omidyar] told her, “Meg, what I need is adult supervision.”
“I stepped down after 10 years. I thought it was time to turn it over to someone with a new set of eyes and a new set of vision. Two individuals encouraged me to think beyond business and think about public service – Mitt Romney and John McCain.” Meg Whitman is now running for governor of California. Her web site for this campaign is here.
How has being a woman contributed to being a leadership success?
“From the earliest days at P & G, I decided the only thing I could really do was try my hardest to deliver the results. I like to work in teams. I am better when I am surrounded by very good people. I don’t know if that is male or female but that [working hard], plus being focused on results, has made all the difference.”
Tell us about how you went about building your team at E-Bay?
“I hired ahead of the curve. When I joined E-Bay, it was growing at 70% compound monthly growth rate. I knew I had to hire someone to whom the company would grow, not who the company would outgrow. An example of this is that I hired the CMO of Pepsi at a time when we were not larger than a $40million company. Right person. Right job. Right time. Hire ahead of the curve. ”
“I’ll be honest with you. It was a challenge. It was always a challenge.
I’m a perfectionist and I finally gave way to the notion that I could not be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect entertainer and the perfect hostess and my house could simply not look as though Martha Stewart had just left. In the end, there are only 2 priorities, my family and my job. ”
Focus. Focus. Focus.
“We only did things socially when we could take the children. When I came to E-Bay, my boys were 10 and 13 and a [I had a] neurosurgeon husband. I had to take E-Bay from teenager to a grown up. [It is key to] Choose the right partner. My husband took over the family finances and managing the house. He and I split those jobs but when I would travel overseas for 10 days, he would be on the job. He deserves a tremendous amount of credit for being on the plate and being on the job.”
Who helps you? Who helped you?
“Close female friends and their families. When push comes to shove and the child is home sick with a meeting that needs to be attended, the ability to call up one of your friends to help out is a huge difference. My sister also helped out a lot. Anne deserves a huge amount of credit for coming out to help me. On the business side, the most influential person I worked for was the President of Disney, Frank Wells. He took a real interest. Disney is a tough place. You have to stand up for yourself. You have to be tough as nails. He helped along the way. “
How did you deal with the toughness in business?
“What I learned at Disney is a great deal about executive communication and how to stand up for yourself; how to engage in give and take and how to stand your ground in a firm way. I had to learn how to state my point of view, and argue persuasively for what I thought would be important. I just did it by doing it. Everyone has their own personal style and I would encourage everyone to know themselves and know what their personal style is. What I’ve learned over the years is that you can only be your authentic self. You cannot pretend and try to be someone that you are not. Being better prepared than anyone else was essential. It’s hard to argue a point when you don’t have the data so that gave me the confidence, because I had done the extra work, to stand by what I thought.”
What are you proudest of?
“I feel best about my husband and two boys. They are really nice young men and we have a great family. My husband is a prince of a guy and a huge supporter. In the end, that has been the most important. I am also incredibly proud of what we did with E-Bay. We started on a great idea. A brilliant idea. I am proud of the fact that we made many of the right decisions and when we made a mistake, we acknowledged it. We fixed it fast and we moved on. What really excited everyone at E-Bay is that we were helping people start their businesses, change lives and do things they never thought were possible. That ability to help change the world on a small scale is something I am really proud of.”
On the lack of integrity in today’s business economy.
“It’s a tragedy in many ways. There have always been people in business who have done the wrong thing but it seems like there are more than ever before. I am very sorry about it because you can have 100 people that behave beautifully and there can be 1 person that spoils it for everyone. I worry that what has happened has given business people a bad name. 99.9% of people are doing the right thing. But if you’d read the magazines, you’d never believe that was the case so I think we have a lot of work to do to regain our good name as business leaders. You can only control what you can control and model the right behavior for your family and your employees. If your family is sitting in the room and is watching you, would they be proud?”
On the economy, right now.
“We are seeing a paradigm changes. Things are fundamentally different. I do not think that we are at the bottom here. We are in the eye of the storm and it’s going to get really bad again. This has turned into a consumer led recession. 72% of our economy is consumer led. Consumer behavior has fundamentally changed. I think those shifts may well be permanent. There’s also a silver lining though – people are focusing on what is really important. You have not seen the full default on consumer credit card debt, commercial real estate is just starting to crack. We do need to spend money. The government has a role to try to have the economy regain strength fast. We need to focus on employment. There is one most important metric – it is unemployment. The federal stimulus package must focus on jobs, jobs and jobs. It must be targeted, timely and temporary. Small business is the engine of the United States economy. It has always been and will always be. 72% of jobs in the US are created by small business. We need to put the spotlight on ‘How do we make small business successful?’ The role of government is to create the conditions for small businesses to grow and thrive.”
How to thrive in this economy
“If you’re running your business better than your competitor, you have the ability to gain market share. Make sure you are taking advantage of this downturn. When we come out, if you’ve been doing the hard work, you’ll be in a better position than today.”
Check back in the next few days for Meg’s essential lessons for success in business.