Meg Whitman Interview: Skype, California Budget Crisis and Mitt Romney
The former eBay chief and gubernatorial candidate on the brutality of politics, where her life has taken her since November—and why she’s glad she bought Skype.
Have you recovered from the [California governor's] campaign?
Mostly. [laughs] Yeah I have. November and December was very tough. But with the new year, I got back in the swing of things and I'm doing a lot of interesting and fun things now.
Were you surprised with how ugly and personal the race became?
It’s politics. I knew what I was getting into. But it’s still hurtful. It’s tough on you, tough on the family. It’s not an easy thing. I knew what it was intellectually, but emotionally it was harder than you think.
Do you think you’ll run for public office again?
I doubt it. You never say never. I will stay involved in politics and public policy, but it may not be elective office.
Governor Brown is being credited with reducing the California budget deficit. How do you think he’s doing? What would you do differently?
Well I think it's... well know that I would have taken a different approach. My approach was to reduce spending. Reduce size of government, reform pensions, and reform a lot of programs that had gotten to be so expensive in California and I would not have raised taxes. Gov. Brown is still working on bringing the budget home and I have been quite careful not to criticize him. I think it’s appropriate that we give him a chance to get through one budget cycle, which is due July 1.
You have a new job with Kleiner Perkins, the venture-capital firm. Tell us what you’re doing.
I’m part-time as what they call a strategic adviser and my job is to help with digital investments and to also coach and mentor CEOs and founders because very few people have scaled up companies the way I did at eBay, from $7 million to nearly $8 billion in revenue, from 30 employees to 15,000.
I think I can be a lot of help to young founders and CEOs who have big aspirations.
On the investment side, you’re always looking for brilliant new ideas that disrupt the existing way of doing things. The most successful companies are those that create entirely new markets… Like eBay, which created global online trading… and Google created a search that had never been done before. You're looking for breakthrough ideas that change the way we do things for the better.
Do you shop on eBay?
Oh yeah. All the time, I bought books recently. Sometimes I buy clothes. When the children were young, I bought a lot of athletic equipment.
You took some heat when you were at eBay for buying Skype in 2005 for $3 billion. Microsoft just bought it for $8 billion. Do you feel vindicated?
Well, I always had great confidence in the Skype acquisition and great confidence in the company. It was incredible technology that changed everything abut the way we communicate with each other.
That's what leadership is, you do what you think is in the best interest of the company and shareholders, and sometimes it takes a little while for the entire story to be told. So I was pleased for what it sold for.
Sometimes in life you don’t get recognition easily.
Is it worth $8 billion?
Yeah, probably. It all depends the how large the platform can grow and what Microsoft can do. I suspect it probably is.
Was it not a good fit for eBay’s business model?
Skype didn’t get the synergies with eBay that we would have liked. Could we have done better creating those synergies? Absolutely.
You supported Mitt Romney in 2008.
I am supporting him again and hard at work on the Romney campaign. I’m very involved. I’ll be in Las Vegas all day [May 16], where he’s having huge gathering of his supporters. We’re all going to come together and make fundraising phone calls for him.
Will Barack Obama be harder to beat now that he’s silenced Osama bid Laden?
I congratulate President Obama on that decision. Boy, that took some guts and he deserves credit. It’s always hard to beat an incumbent president. I think this election will turn on the economy and jobs. If the economy doesn’t improve measurably… and people don’t have more optimism about their own future, I think President Obama can be beaten.
Mitt is an extraordinary leader and he understands the economy. Often this is about the right person at the right time.
“You’re always looking for brilliant new ideas that disrupt the existing way of doing things....You're looking for breakthrough ideas that change the way we do things for the better.”
Is there anything else you’re doing that you’d like to share?
I’ve been getting involved in philanthropic activities. I joined the Teach for America board, have joined the Summit Preparatory High School board, and the board of the Nature Conservancy.
Lois Romano is a senior writer for Newsweek/Daily Beast based in Washington. She was a longtime political writer and columnist for The Washington Post, covering presidential campaigns and Washington powerbrokers.