Susan Walsh/AP
Meg Whitman

Whitman’s eBay Departure Fuels Rumors of Political Run

January 07, 2009 01:34 PM
by Cara McDonough
Meg Whitman has stepped down from the boards of eBay, Procter & Gamble Co. and DreamWorks Animation amid speculation that she is planning to run for governor of California.

From Online Auctions to Governor?

People familiar with the matter say Whitman, former CEO of online auction pioneer eBay, has assembled a team to manage her gubernatorial campaign and may announce her candidacy next month, reports Bloomberg. The 52-year-old Republican would be up against California insurance commissioner Steve Poizner. Current Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has faced dwindling popularity in recent years, cannot run for re-election in 2010 due to term-limit laws.

As the rumors fly, Whitman has yet to confirm them. Her spokesman, Henry Gomez, said that she stepped down from the boards “for personal reasons.” Whitman had already resigned as CEO of eBay in January, 2008, but remained on its board of directors.

Although the transition from eBay to politics may seem an unlikely one, Whitman is not the first to make the leap. Steve Westly, who oversaw eBay’s international expansion, left the company in 2000 and was elected California state controller in 2002.

Key Players: Whitman and the competition

Meg Whitman was president and CEO of eBay from 1998 until she announced her resignation at this time last year. In her tenure, Whitman transformed the online auction site into a multibillion-dollar venture, and the most trusted auctioneer on the Internet. Heading the Internet auction site wasn’t the only of her major successes, however. The Princeton University alum also headed other major companies, including toy company Hasbro and shoe company Stride Rite during her professional career. In 2006, she made the list of Fortune magazine’s most powerful women.

But Whitman has made time for politics, too. Whitman joined McCain’s campaign as a national co-chair and resident advocate of the role of technology in business during his 2008 run for president, and was a key speaker at the Republican National Convention in September.

If Whitman does run for governor, she joins an ever-growing list of competitors. On the Republican side, she would face off against Poizner, as well as former California congressman Tom Campbell.

The toughest competition may be from the Democrats, however. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a well-recognized name in California and nationwide since her election in 1992, is a favorite for the Governor’s seat once Schwarzenegger’s term is up. Other Democratic candidates could include former Governor Jerry Brown, Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles.

Background: Whitman’s past at eBay

When Whitman stepped down as eBay’s president and CEO, she was succeeded by John Donahoe, who had managed the auction portion of the company. Whitman didn’t relinquish all power, however; she announced that she would stay on as a director of the company. Many noted that Whitman’s resignation followed months of rumors after eBay’s slow expansion in 2007, when its main auction business had suffered for two quarters in a row.

But Whitman’s tenure at the company saw major improvement. Under her leadership, the e-commerce site expanded from a $4-million-a-year operation to a massive entity that has taken over such well-known Web-based brands as PayPal and Skype. She is widely credited as the main reason for eBay’s success today.

When Whitman resigned as CEO, political rumors flared as she had reportedly talked with chiefs of the California Republican Party regarding a possible gubernatorial bid.

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