Few college students during the disco-driven 1970s read The Wall Street Journal. But Margaret “Meg” Whitman had the paper delivered to her dorm room at Princeton University, where she was an economics major.
“Myself and other classmates thought she was strange because she got The Wall Street Journal in her room,” says Dick Boyce, a partner at Texas Pacific Group equity investment firm. “She always had a very strong orientation toward business. She was very ambitious.” Boyce pointed eBay’s headhunters her way in late 1997 while she was a top executive at toymaker Hasbro.
Whitman initially resisted repeated pleas to fly out to Silicon Valley and meet with eBay’s founder Pierre Omidyar and then-president Jeff Skoll in their cramped offices. After all, she was running the $600 million preschool division of Hasbro, and was finally living full-time with her husband, Griffith R. Harsh, a neurosurgeon in Massachusetts, and their two children, after commuting from Chicago and Detroit during a tenure with florist FTD. At the time, eBay had fewer than three dozen employees and posted $5.7 million in revenues in 1997. Although modestly profitable from its inception in 1995, the fledgling startup failed to wow her.
“The headhunter pursued her doggedly,” says Skoll. “She finally just said ‘All right, I’ll meet with them. Just get them off my back. I can’t take it anymore.’” Skoll recalls that after the first meeting, she still wasn’t convinced. But she returned for a second visit. This time, she saw the light – and it was green. By happy coincidence, Whitman’s husband landed a position at Stanford University Medical Center’s neurosurgery division, and the whole family moved to California together.
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