Meg Whitman is living proof that you can be successful and philanthropic at the same time. It’s undeniable that her turn heading some of the world's most trusted companies from eBay to HP has made a lasting impact.
Despite her coveted employment history, this inspiring billionaire continues to spend most of her free time giving back to her community. The U.S. Harvard Business Review named her the eighth-best-performing CEO of the past decade. As of 2016, she has a net worth of around $2.1 billion.
Shaping Her Future
New York-born Whitman spent her childhood in Cold Spring Harbor. Her mother, Margaret, was a homemaker, while her father, Hendricks, ran a loan business. After graduating from high school – in the top 10 of her class – Whitman went on to Princeton University with the hopes of becoming a physician.
Although initially opting to study math and science in the hopes of becoming a physician, Whitman decided to swap her major to economics, following on from a summer job in which she sold advertisements for a student magazine.
She graduated from Princeton in 1977 and went on to Harvard Business School, where she earned a master's degree in business administration the following year.
Earning Her Wings
Upon completing her M.B.A, Whitman took up a brand manager position at Proctor & Gamble, working with a team on Noxzema skin care products. Although this position was short-lived – due to her marriage to Griffith Harsh IV and their subsequent relocation to San Francisco in 1981 – Whitman’s role as brand manager would have undoubtedly offered invaluable insight into the marketing of a company’s products; a skill that would stand her in good stead for her work with eBay later.
Shortly after her move to San Francisco, Whitman joined the firm Bain & Company as a consultant. Her growth within this company was nothing short of meteoric; having started out as a consultant, she left the company eight years later as its senior vice president. She then occupied a similar position at the Walt Disney Corporation, working as the senior vice president of marketing for its consumer products division. It was this experience that Whitman credits with helping her learn the ins and outs of running a large business.
Whitman helped launch and expand Disney theme stores throughout the United States. In spite of this, when her husband was offered the post as chief of neurosurgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Whitman had to once again make another career change. Luckily, Stride Rite was on the lookout for a new president.
Stepping Outside the box with eBay and Beyond
In 1998, Whitman was contacted by a corporate headhunter asking if she would be interested in working with a small start-up company in San Jose, California. The company, now known as eBay, was once called Auction Web. Whitman was informed that it was an auction site created by computer programmer Pierre Omidyar who wanted an outlet for his girlfriend to sell her eclectic Pez dispenser collection. Whitman was called because the company had become too big for Omidyar to handle alone, and he needed direction for its growth. Given that it was a then-unknown and unproven company, and she was still living in Massachusetts, Whitman was unsure about taking the job. She decided to spend a day with the company, which changed her mind. She started working for eBay in March 1998, and restructured the entire organization, before taking the company public just 6 short months later.
Within hours, eBay became one of the fastest-growing Internet companies in the world. This growth propelled Whitman to become a multi-millionaire. In a matter of years, Whitman helped the company expand its customer base from 750,000 to over seven million.
She always made sure the customer was protected, and that the site maintained some quality control over the merchandise listed. In 2003, Whitman also agreed for eBay to buy PayPal. That was the year the company reached revenues of $2.17 billion. Given the tremendous role she played with eBay's growth, she decided to pass the torch to her predecessor, John Donahoe, in 2007.
A Natural Leader
In 2011, Whitman was hired as the President and Chief Executive Officer of HP. In addition, she has served on the board of directors of Summit Public Schools, DreamWorks SKG, Proctor & Gamble, Zipcar, Teach for America and the eBay Foundation. She also had a stint in politics when she spent $140 million of her own money to self-fund a 2010 run for the office of the governor of California.
Moreover, her community involvement includes founding the Griffith R. Harsh IV and Margaret C Whitman Charitable Foundation by donating 300,000 shares of eBay stock worth $9.4 million. After its first year of operation, it had $46 million in assets. Most of its disbursed money has gone to the Environmental Defense Fund and Summit Public Schools.
Whitman also gave back to her alma mater, Princeton, where she and her husband donated $30 million for a new residential college for undergraduates. Whitman College then became Princeton's sixth residential college, housing around five hundred students.
There isn't any question that Whitman has done it all and worked with some of the best brands in the business world, yet she continues to give back to the community and share her passion for life and success.