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Meg Whitman LeadershipMeg Whitman Leadership


Meg Whitman (1957- )


Chief executive of Hewlett-Packard since 2011 (pictured right) and ex-boss of eBay, the online auction site, who helped it become one of the world’s most successful businesses.

As the Republican candidate, she failed in her attempt to become the Governor of California in 2010.


Why is she a great leader?


Meg Whitman Leadership

1. Vision and purpose

She wanted eBay to be people’s first choice when they shop, buy or sell online, making them feel part of one big happy family and delighted with the company’s service (see point 2).

“The company truly is built by the community of users”, she said.


2. Delighting customersMeg Whitman Leadership

Her top priority was the delight and loyalty of customers by giving them the best possible service.

So sellers are checked through customer feedback and given quality ratings.

She bought PayPal in 2002 to make buying easier and continually listens to customers.

In 1999 she launched the “Voice of the Customer” policy, where a dozen loyal customers were invited every few months to eBay’s head office in San Jose, California, to express their views to Whitman and her managers.

 Meg Whitman Leadership

3. Principles and integrity

She is driven by her principles, particularly her love and respect for people.

She treats her employees as equals and is honest, charming and down-to-earth (see point 4).

She was also keen that eBay should be ethical, banning the sale of firearms, alcohol and tobacco in 1999.

 Meg Whitman Leadership

4. Down-to-earth

She sees herself as a “level 5 manager” (the term used by Jim Collins (pictured right) in his book, Good to Great) i.e. humble (never arrogant) and unassuming but fiercely determined to succeed.

“She’s frumpy but delivers” is her modest description of yourself.

She doesn’t like special treatment and like everybody else had a cubicle office, keeping in touch with employees and their views.


5. Empowerment

She gave employees freedom, responsibility and encouragement, so that they could give the best possible customer service.

She has been called the “chief executive enabler”, helping other people to succeed.

“Enable, not direct. Use carrots, not sticks”, she says.

So she appointed category managers at eBay who were responsible for each of its main selling categories e.g. collectables, music and movies, and cars.

 Meg Whitman Leadership

6. Picks good people

She recruited talented people from other companies like Gateway’s Internet expert, Maynard Webb (pictured right).


7. Lifelong learning

She loves learning.

She did an MBA at Harvard Business School

Her jobs at Disney and Proctor and Gamble taught her a lot about marketing and customer satisfaction.Meg Whitman Leadership

When she arrived at eBay, its founder, Pierre Omidyar (now its chairman, pictured right) taught her about the Internet.

She also learns from her mistakes, like in 2001 when she supported eBay’s own payment system despite customers preferring PayPal. So she bought it!


8. Cool and decisive under pressure

She calmly deals with any problems and, once she has made a decision, she puts it into action as quickly as possible.

She also wants to be first in a foreign market, a lesson she learned after Yahoo! got into Japan first and forced eBay out in 2002.


9. Lover of change and improvement

She was never complacent about eBay’s success, making sure it was constantly changing and improving, so that it could stay ahead of its competitors like Yahoo! and Amazon.

When she became chief executive, she concentrated on exploiting eBay’s strengths (online trading) rather than finding out what was wrong and fixing it.

She seizes new strategic opportunities after assessing their profitability and cost.

Cost control and cash availability are two of her top priorities.

 Meg Whitman Leadership

10. Ambition, hard work and relaxation

Her parents taught her to be ambitious and work hard.

She set challenging aims to motivate employees like winning the huge Chinese market.

She also likes to relax with her family (her husband, Griff, is a brain surgeon, pictured right dancing together).


Key quotes on customers

It’s all about the customer.

We think of customers as people, not wallets.


Key quotes on leadership and management

It’s O.K. to make mistakes as long as you fix them quickly.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t control it.

Enable, not direct. Use carrots, not sticks.


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