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Meg Whitman

The Womens Conference

How She Empowers Others

Meg Whitman fell in love with California as a young girl. Although Meg was born and raised on Long Island, New York, her intrepid and adventurous mother, Margaret, packed six-year-old Meg and her brother and sister into a Ford Econoline van in 1962 and spent three months car-camping throughout the West. Meg’s fondest memories: the majesty of Yosemite’s towering cliffs and the thrill of Disneyland’s spinning teacups. “California seemed larger than life, a place where anything was possible,” Meg recalls.

A strong student and a versatile athlete, Meg attended Princeton University, where she received a degree in economics. She then went on to Harvard Business School, where she received her MBA in 1979. Her first professional job was as a brand assistant at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati. But Meg soon found herself happily headed to California again, this time as a young bride with her husband, Griff Harsh, who had accepted a neurosurgical residency at the University of California, San Francisco. Meg joined the consulting firm Bain & Co.’s San Francisco office, where she would work for the next eight years, eventually becoming a vice president. At Bain, Meg developed her keen ability to analyze challenges and solve problems by “focusing intensely on the small number of changes that can make the largest possible difference.” Also during this time in San Francisco, Meg and Griff decided to start their family and sons, Griff and Will, were born.

Meg’s career led her to key executive positions at some of America’s best-known companies, including Disney, Stride Rite, FTD and Hasbro. Each career stop helped prepare her for the unprecedented opportunity that Meg encountered in the fall of 1997, when she met the founder of a tiny start-up called eBay. Meg had honed a style of leadership that emphasized listening and teamwork. She was a seasoned manager of large, complex organizations. Meg immediately saw in eBay the makings of a great company. eBay had married the Internet’s communication and networking capabilities to create a novel and efficient trading market. It also had something very rare -- an exuberant community of users who loved eBay and who pulled together to make it work and grow.

At eBay, Meg made history. Meg steered eBay through the dot-com rise and fall that saw the vast majority of high-flying start-ups crash and burn, while eBay turned in one quarter of dramatic growth after another. When she joined eBay, the company had just $4.7 million in revenues and 30 employees; when she retired in March of 2008, ten years later, the company had nearly $8 billion in revenues and 15,000 employees worldwide – with millions of users in California alone. During that journey, Meg appeared on many “top CEO” lists and national magazine covers. Time ranked her among the world’s most influential people. Fortune ranked her the most powerful woman in business in 2004 and 2005. And Business Week listed her among business’ top managers year after year.

Meg’s widely regarded leadership and organizational skills attracted attention beyond business. As the leader of a global company that created a huge number of jobs, Meg developed strong ideas about the ingredients for 21st century success at every scale, from small business to the corporate level, from local to state to national government. Governor Mitt Romney asked Meg to serve as his National Finance Co-Chair during the 2008 presidential primary campaign. After Gov. Romney exited the race, Senator John McCain asked Meg to serve as National Co-Chair for McCain-Palin. Meg worked tirelessly leading fundraising efforts and advising on key policy issues. She has also worked on behalf of local elected candidates and has personally contributed to and participated in numerous Get Out the Vote efforts on behalf of congressional and legislative candidates.

Meg traveled the nation and spoke with voters. During these campaigns, she saw a critical need for more focused problem solving in government by those with the tools to lead and the willingness and independence to challenge the status quo. Her decade at the helm of eBay came to a close just as California’s growing economic crisis was unfolding. Job losses, undisciplined spending and the declining performance of California’s schools were deeply troubling to Meg and she thought carefully about how she could lend her experiences to help. In February 2009, she announced her candidacy to become California’s next governor. “We’ve got to focus – we’ve got to create jobs, cut spending, and invest in fixing our educational system,” Meg says.

Meg has committed her energy, her trademark optimism and her belief in fiscal restraint to the challenge of rebuilding California. She has done so with the full support of her family, which is her greatest source of pride. Meg and her husband, Griff, a neurosurgeon at Stanford Hospital, have been married for 30 years. Their two sons are now young adults. Meg and her family are ardent outdoor enthusiasts who love hiking, skiing, fly fishing and enjoying all of California’s natural treasures. “If we let California fail, we all fail,” she says. “And we love California too much to let it fail. We have to work together to make it the place of our dreams again.”