Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman Biography.com

Business Leader(1956–)
Meg Whitman is the successful corporate executive, serving as CEO of eBay and later Hewlett Packard. In 2010 she lost her bid to win the California governorship.

Synopsis

Corporate executive Meg Whitman was born August 4, 1956, in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York. Whitman has built her reputation in a corporate world still largely run by men. She served as CEO of eBay for 10 years. After failing to win the California governor's race in 2010 she was tapped to run computer giant Hewlett-Packard.

Early Years

Meg Whitman was born Margaret Cushing Whitman on August 4, 1956, in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York. The youngest of Hendricks and Margaret Cushing's three children, Meg grew up in Cold Harbor Spring, New York, the product of a father who worked on Wall Street and a stay-at-home mom.

Confident and bright, Whitman didn't shy away from her intelligence, and in 1974 she graduated from high school after just three years. Whitman then enrolled at Princeton University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in economics. She then took on the MBA program at Harvard Business School, graduating in 1979.

"I was scared to death," she recalled of her time at Harvard in a 2003 interview. "On my left was someone who'd been at Chemical Bank for four years, and on my right was someone who'd been in the Army for nine years. They also tell you 10 percent of the class fails out. For the first year I did almost nothing but work."

Working Girl

Following Harvard, Meg moved to Cincinnati for a job as brand manager at Proctor & Gamble. There, Whitman cut her teeth in the marketing and business world, working with future Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

But Whitman's time in Cincinnati was short. After two years, she packed up with her new husband, neurosurgeon Griff Harsh. They moved to San Francisco, where Harsh completed his residency. Whitman's job search eventually landed her at Bain & Company, a wildly successful business-consulting firm, where she worked with future Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. From Bain, Whitman would go on to land a number of high profile positions at big firms like Disney, Stride Rite, FTD and Hasbro. In 1998, she changed course a bit and landed in Silicon Valley as CEO of eBay.

Still in its relative infancy, eBay, with its non-traditional start-up culture, seemed like an odd fit for the more traditional Whitman. But under her direction, the young company soon morphed into an online auction giant that went from sales of $86 million her first year to $7.7 billion a decade later, when Whitman stepped down as CEO.

Still, Whitman had critics who questioned many of her decisions—most notably her 2005 purchase of Skype, the Internet calling company, for $2.5 billion. Later, eBay took a $1.4 billion write-down on the purchase.

Political Ambitions

In 2009 Whitman, a conservative Republican, announced her plans to run for governor of California. In a state mired in an economic meltdown with hefty deficits to overcome, Whitman and her supporters believed California would benefit from her business background.

It helped that Whitman, who had served as an advisor to John McCain during his 2008 presidential run, was also willing to pump a record $119 million of her own cash into the campaign. In all, her race would end up costing some $175 million, enough to win the Republican nomination, but not enough to defeat former California governor Jerry Brown in a tight race.

As a candidate, Whitman showed her inexperience on the campaign trail. She revealed little about herself to voters, and in the closing weeks of the general race, tried to weather a series of political surprises and setbacks. One incident of particular note involved the appearance of her former housekeeper, who said she was fired following nine years of service, after she revealed to Whitman she was an illegal immigrant.

Following her political loss, Whitman, who is estimated to be worth more than $1 billion, found that she was still in demand in the world of business. In September 2011, she was tapped to run computer giant Hewlett-Packard.

Personal Life

Whitman has two adult sons with her longtime husband, Griff, who works at Stanford Hospital. The couple resides in Atherton, California.

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