Posted by: Rob Hof on January 22, 2008
Longtime eBay CEO Meg Whitman is readying her retirement before long, according to the Wall Street Journal. Given that she’s just about to come up on the 10 years she once said was about as long as a CEO should stick around at a company, I’m not surprised. (Update: eBay just announced it, effective March 31. That was quick. She’ll stay on the board. But it looks like Bill Cobb, president of eBay North America, is the odd man out, and he’ll retire at the end of the year.)
It may even be a good time for the transition: eBay’s strategy for recharging its flagging auction business, or at least figuring out what’s going to help it regain leadership in e-commerce to make up for that maturing business, still isn’t clear to many people. That was made all the more obvious last year, when eBay wrote down a large portion of its purchase of Internet phone service provider Skype.
Now, eBay needs a leader who is committed to the next few years of transition, and it will be John Donahoe, president of eBay Marketplaces, the auction arm. I think eBay still has a lot going for it, despite losing some ground to a resurgent Amazon.com and facing continuing criticism from its sellers. And Whitman has to be credited with keeping such a singular business like eBay—really, a mini-economy made up of millions of buyers and sellers—on such a long growth trajectory.
But its vision of where e-commerce is headed isn’t yet obvious to me and a lot of other people, and it will have to corral its many initiatives into a cohesive direction if it wants those sellers, and many more new ones, to come along.