Life of Achievement: Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman's illustrious career spans CEO roles at eBay & HP, a gubernatorial run in California, and her recent appointment as the US Ambassador to Kenya

A prominent American business executive and political figure, Meg Whitman is best known for her roles at leading several major corporations, most notably eBay and Hewlett-Packard.

Born on August 4, 1956, in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, Whitman attended the Cold Spring Harbor High School before enrolling at Princeton University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in economics. Following this, she obtained an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1979.

Whitman began her career in brand management at Procter & Gamble, following which she joined Bain & Company as a consultant. She then took on executive roles at various firms, including The Walt Disney Company, where she was Senior Vice President of Marketing, and Hasbro, where she oversaw the global management and marketing of the Playskool and Mr. Potato Head brands.

In 1998, Whitman joined eBay, a then-fledgling online auction platform, as its President and CEO. Under her stewardship, eBay grew from a company with 30 employees and US$4m in annual revenue to a global enterprise employing 15,000 people with almost US$8bn in revenue by the time she stepped down in 2008. She was instrumental in launching initiatives like ‘Buy it Now’ and led the company through its initial public offering (IPO) in 1998.

“The challenge at eBay was how to keep up with a 70% compound monthly growth rate,” Whitman said in a 2016 interview with Harvard Business Review. “But the principles of leadership were the same: clear strategy, well communicated, well metricked. Celebrate the victories and hold people, including yourself, accountable for results. When you’re the CEO of a 30-person company that grows to 15,000 people, as eBay did, you have to keep reinventing yourself as the company scales.”

After leaving eBay, Whitman ventured into politics, running as a Republican candidate for the Governor of California in 2010 but was defeated by Jerry Brown. She returned to the business arena in 2011 as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. At HP, she faced the enormous task of reviving the struggling tech giant. She initiated significant restructuring, including the decision to split the firm into two separate companies: HP Inc, focused on printers and personal computers, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, focused on servers, storage, and networking. 

“The biggest challenge facing the company was that it had too many CEOs in too short a period of time,” Whitman said. “I was the third CEO in as many years. That is really tough on a company. And the three CEOs had quite different strategies. When you make changes at the centre they get amplified on the ground in Singapore or Berlin or Rio. The company was not sure what its strategy was, and therefore it was difficult for everyone to execute.”

After stepping down as the CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise in 2018, Whitman's next venture was Quibi, a short-form streaming platform created by Jeffrey Katzenberg. Launched in April 2020, the platform aimed to revolutionise mobile-first entertainment but struggled to gain traction. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and lacklustre performance, Quibi shut down just six months after its launch.

Whitman has been recognised numerous times for her contributions to business. She has been featured on Forbes' list of The World's 100 Most Powerful Women multiple times and has received several honorary degrees.

Whitman was confirmed in a unanimous vote by the U.S. Senate as the 18th United States Ambassador to Kenya on July 14, 2022. “The U.S.-Kenya partnership is strong, built on sixty years of shared values and interests,” she wrote in an official post. “Our partnership has enhanced security, increased prosperity, and improved the lives of Kenyans and Americans. 

“Since I arrived in Kenya, my team and I have been laser-focused on strengthening the U.S.-Kenya trade and investment relationship in coordination with the Kenyan government.”

Whitman is married to Dr Griffith Harsh, a neurosurgeon. They have two grown sons and two grandchildren.

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