As you may know, I was roaming Silicon Valley last week, and on Friday, I landed at eBay — the “Whitman Campus,” as the headquarters is now called. Seeing that tribute to Meg Whitman made me smile as I drove in. She built the company practically from scratch to $7.7 billion in revenues in only 10 years. Whitman retired as CEO in March. But on Friday, there she was back at eBay, popping in for a surprise party for general counsel Mike Jacobson, who was celebrating both his birthday and his 10th anniversary at the company that day.
I was talking with a couple of senior execs, eBay North America boss Stephanie Tilenius and eBay Marketplaces chief Lorrie Norrington in the Bobblehead Room — where tiny bobblehead figurines of Richard Nixon, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meg Whitman were on display. New PR head Alan Marks, whom I’ve known for years as he’s moved from the Gap to Nike to eBay, suggested that we visit Whitman two buildings over.
On the way (and in the spirit of bobbleheads), I mentioned that when I did an eBay cover story in 2004, one board member told me that eBay’s next CEO would likely be someone who could be drawn as a cartoon character. (Seriously. The logic being that eBay’s CEO needs to be a friendly, recognizable figure.) “Dennis the Menace,” Marks replied, explaining that Whitman’s successor, John Donahoe, looks like Dennis the Menace.
He does, though much, much taller. We stopped by to see him and Whitman in the Dennis the Menace room, which is the name of Donahoe’s personal conference space. We chatted briefly, and I remarked to Whitman something I’ve noticed about the Valley these days: that the next generation of women leaders after her all seem to know each other and even hang out together, as opposed to the old guard. She agreed, adding that she “kinda sorta” knew Carly Fiorina and a bunch of other former women leaders in tech. “With us, it was heads down,” Whitman said of her generation.
Isn’t it interesting that the two women who dominated Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business list for eight years of its 10-year history are now both working for John McCain, hoping he’ll be the next U.S. President? Whitman co-chairs the McCain campaign, while Fiorina, who headed Hewlett-Packard from 1999 until her 2005 ouster, is the RNC Victory chair and a key McCain advisor. I didn’t ask Whitman about her political aspirations. But I’ll bet that if McCain doesn’t win and give these women key roles in the next Administration, they’ll square off against each other in another very public and competitive arena: the 2010 contest for governor of California. Do you think either Whitman or Fiorina could win?