Whitman kept eBay growing fast by adding categories and 53 local sites.
Can she lead eBay into international markets? So far, efforts to establish sites in Europe and Japan have not taken wing.
Meg Whitman, CEO of pioneering online auctioneer eBay Inc. (EBAY), remains the czarina of Net auctions--and that's saying a lot. Three tough competitors, Amazon.com (AMZN), Yahoo! (YHOO), and Lycos (LCOS) tried to knock eBay from its perch. It didn't happen. A series of embarrassing technical glitches that culminated in a 24-hour outage last June seemed likely to drive frustrated customers away. That didn't happen. And a handful of phony auctions of bizarre items including human organs could have frightened consumers off. Did they shun the site? Nope.
Credit Whitman for beating back the competitors, the charlatans, and the skeptics and remaining firmly in control of the fast-growing market for online auctions. She has kept her company profitable and focused on consumers while fixing the site's computing system. All the while, she masterminded eBay's continuing expansion. From its flea market-like roots, eBay now hosts auctions for big-ticket items such as automobiles and real estate. Plus, she has established local sites in 53 U.S. cities and five countries. It's heady stuff for a company that had just $6 million in revenues when Whitman took over less than three years ago. How is she holding up? She avoids burnout by escaping to her husband's family farm in Sweetwater, Tenn.
Good thing. eBay hasn't just weathered the storm--it's steaming full speed ahead. In the first quarter, revenues doubled to $85.8 million, while net income shot up 67%, to $8 million. Being profitable while growing aggressively is a point of pride for Whitman, who learned rigorous financial control in earlier jobs at Hasbro and Stride Rite. She thinks other Net companies will find that hard to achieve. ''The culture at a lot of these companies is going to have to change,'' she says.
How does Whitman keep eBay forging ahead? She charms customers by informing them of site changes and welcoming feedback. That's why folks came back soon after eBay fixed its technical snafus. ''She has tremendous brand and consumer instincts,'' says Bob Kagle, general partner at eBay investor Benchmark Capital.
Now, Whitman is going global, hoping to up overseas revenues from 10% to 50% within two years. Her efforts are boosted by founder Pierre Omidyar, who is spending time in his native Paris. People say eBay has a bullet-proof business model. But it's Whitman who keeps it dodging bullets.