Meg Whitman, dubbed the "Czarina of Net auctions" by Business Week, is the CEO and mastermind behind the success of eBay, Incorporated.
The underdog of the internet auction world, eBay has outrun its three major competitors, Amazon, Yahoo!, and Lycos, all internet giants with more reason to win than the startup company perpetually threatened by phony auctions, frauds, and technical glitches.
Through determination and shrewd business skills, Whitman was able to secure hold of the fast-growing Internet auction industry by focusing on her customers and the viability of her profit margin.
At 43 years of age, the auctioneer giant is already worthy more than $900 million as CEO and President of eBay.
Whitman began her career as an online auctioneer from the privacy of her home as someone who began a website for trading Pez dispensers but carefully manipulated her personal and business history to tailor the site into an online marketplace. After graduating from Princeton, she attended Harvard Business School and was, within two years, invited to join the prestigious ranks of the Proctor & Gamble group. She later worked for Bain & Co., the Boston-based consulting firm, Walt Disney, the children's shoe company Strike Rite, FTD, and even Hasbro. Her motley vocational training before eBay was topped by her achievements at Hasbro, where she was responsible for the PlaySkool and Mr. Potato Head brand marketing. Both were very successful, and she took her personal interests online in search of more playful Pez, but in 1998 found herself director and CEO of what would be the greatest auction giant as of yet on the Internet, visited by as many as 7 million a day.
At eBay, Whitman singled herself out to founder Pierre Omidyar as someone capable of brand building, a nuanced understanding of consumer technology experience, and conviction to her company.
When Whitman came to eBay in a professional setting, she approached her new job with both skills and apprehension; although she had little online experience, she was excellent at the branding process that would quickly turn eBay into the monster it is today. She is credited with interpersonal success with her peers, asboth "collaborative and decisive, serious but loose," that helped gain the respect of those around her and move forward in her business instincts to create the eBay image.
The creation of the eBay image Whitman so carefully constructed is the classic story of the tortoise and the hare; while Yahoo plundered in the auction zone in the earliest part of this decade, Whitman was pooling her resources at eBay. Likewise, as the dot-com bubble began bursting and Wall Street wondered if Amazon would even be able to survive, Whitman beat the hype by marketing eBay as the online person-to-person garage sale, harkening an older age of yore to American consumers ostensibly fed up high prices and weary of the every-growing impersonality of the modern marketplace. Yet, she was able to carefully construct an image for eBay of one person trading directly with another, despite of how the numbers actually increased the seller's prices.
Her second most powerful move on behalf of the eBay giant was to acquire the smaller competitors and tack their resources into her system. The first of these was the 1998 acquisition of Half.com, an overseas market used for selling used goods at set prices. She carefully analyzed the set price option of Half.com to achieve her third major coup for the company, the "Buy it Now!" option available at the seller's behest in any auction. Whitman is credited not only with looking at the skills and assets of her competitors from an even keel, but mainly for listening to what the consumer actually wants and why those companies adapting to their desires succeed. "What is really interesting about eBay," Whitman reported to the Salon interviewer, "is that we provide the marketplace, but it is the users who build the company. They bring the product to the site, they merchandise the product and they distribute it once sold."
While true, it is because of her merchandising of the site that allows for the success of the products there exchanged. At the same time, she carefully marketed the brand while continuing its expansion, very gradually and with little change. She ensured a comfort to the users, both buyers and sellers, which allowed for a familiarity for which she understands the consumer most generally longs. At the start of the new decade, Whitman introduced the growth of auctions for automobiles and travel coupons on her site, endorsing them as she watched the growth of Priceline and Amazon. Her newest ideas added to the eBay marketplace include local auctions, which currently take place in 50 cities, providing that real person-to-person atmosphere the user seems to crave, as well as "eBay university," where buyers and sellers can learn to bid, sell, and auction more profitably.
Staying big, she says, is key to the success of eBay, and one thing at which she is careful to stay faithfully unchanged. "We are far and away the largest marketplace," she says. "Sellers want to be where the buyers are, and buyers want to be where the sellers are. That's where being the largest helps."
Apparently, so does being casual. It is in her smooth operating style that business leaders and Wall Street observers wonder just what it is eBay management does -- which some suggest allow for Whitman to being taken for granted.
Yet, while some warn it might happen, it does not seem to be happening yet. Conversely, her lack of flamboyance provides the natural shell for eBay that makes it so marketable; it is because, "Wall Street observers claim that eBay runs so smoothly, it's difficult to point to what management has done," that her success is so evident.
The quiet motor that keeps the company running smoothly, she is like the car motor that is so good that, since it never has problems, no driver would know it was there. Every once in a while, though, that casual, perfected power likes to make unscheduled visits -- as only someone as low-key as Whitman could effectively do -- to her underlings across the world. At once instance, the executives of eBay Germany were forced to account directly to their boss who had just "popped in" why their summer sales were down. As the executives tried to explain their hearts out, Whitman sat there quietly, nibbling on a pencil top, and finally told them not to worry; they just should put some more money into market spending. Her ultimatum: No one should panic.
Her motivational tactics are the helm of her successful leadership style; not only does she create an eBay image and interface that is casual, informal, and somehow, still personal, she does the same in the marketplace. She takes her role as a Wall Street powerhouse lightly, still responding to customer e-mails herself.
In fact, she insists on doing lots of things herself, particularly monitoring the barometers of her company's success: how many people visit the site, how many of those become registered users, how long pages load, the average money spent on one item or in one day by a registered user, et cetera.
She stays keenly aware of everything going on at eBay, although successfully staffs her company with 5,000 employees, nearly half of whom are in customer service alone.
All of her direct reports cite her skillful employment of a management-consultant atmosphere as not only the result of her personal character and professional histories at Bain and Hasbro, but also the driving force that results in their loyalty to the company and, ultimately, to Whitman herself.
She refines he role as president and CEO daily, frequently settling back to watch eBay run like the well-oiled machine she has turned…