In-Depth

Fortune smiles on eBay’s Meg Whitman

Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina used to win top honors in Fortune magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business list with the regularity with which a young Ali once KO’d opponents. But for the first time since the list debuted in 1998, there’s a new champion-- Meg Whitman, president and CEO of eBay. In October, Fortune officially labeled her "the most powerful woman in American business."

In seven years, the magazine credits Whitman with taking eBay from a $5.7 million dot-com boomer baby to $3.2 billion e-commerce behemoth. It notes that if eBay actually "employed the 430,000 people who earn all or most of their income selling on its site, it would be the second-largest employer on the Fortune 500, after Wal-Mart."

With some irony, in the past year Whitman was pointing out in speeches that eBay has become something of a bargain basement for Fiorina’s company.

Noting that eBay is a "successful distribution channel" for Sharp, Sony, Dell, Palm, Motorola and HP, Whitman said some companies use their brand name on the site and others hide it since they usually sell products at the end of their retail life cycle.

"And then some businesses, like HP, choose a middle path," she said in a speech to IT consultants. "HP wanted to communicate value, so they use the HP brand, but they call it the HP Factory Outlet since the prices are so good."

Gloating over her triumph, especially when it’s over a leading corporate member of the eBay family, is not Whitman’s style. When the Fortune title came her way, she demurred.

"Ask anyone about me,” she told Fortune, “and they would never think of power." However, now that Fortune smiles on Meg, that may change.

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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