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eBay exec departs seeking CEO job

by Jessica Shambora

On the heels of last week’s news that Avon president Liz Smith is leaving to pursue a CEO job outside the company, another powerful woman is departing to seek a new C-suite challenge. eBay announced today that Stephanie Tilenius, head of marketplaces for North America, is leaving.

Tilenius, 42, will stay on as an advisor to CEO John Donahoe for the next few months, but her position will not be filled. Instead, Lorrie Norrington, global head of  marketplaces (and No. 40 on Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women list) will assume responsibility for the division–reinforcing Norrington’s rising profile at eBay.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a while and it feels like the right time,” Tilenius told Fortune on Monday. “I spent nearly at decade at eBay and I want to look for where I’m going to spend the next decade.”

During her nine years at eBay, Tilenius covered a lot of ground, from leading operations in Korea and Asia-Pacific, to heading  eBay Motors, to building PayPal to $1 billion in revenue — and finally, to helping to revitalize the marketplaces division. That these assignments involved creating or building businesses within eBay is no coincidence. Tilenius’s entrepreneurial roots go back to her first job out of Harvard Business School. Instead of accepting an offer from Goldman Sachs , Tilenius went to work for a startup named Firefly.

“I was probably one of 10 people that joined an Internet company out of Harvard in 1996. It was definitely the path not traveled,” she told Fortune last September.

After Firefly was sold to Microsoft , Tilenius went on to co-found PlanetRx.com, which she took public in 1999 (postponing her honeymoon for the company’s road show). But the Internet startup–an online healthcare and e-commerce site–burst with the Internet bubble. Laying off 400 people was one of hardest things Tilenius has ever done, but she made a list of lessons  learned that she still refers to today.

That list–and several others like it that Tilenius has made in the wake of her many leadership experiences at eBay–could come in handy as she prepares for her next job. In a note to employees today, Tilenius wrote, “I am eager to explore new learning curves and other adventures in life such as becoming CEO of a smaller company.”

Lorna Borenstein, a friend and former eBay colleague says she can see Tilenius as either a CEO of a late-stage startup or as head of a large division of a multinational company. “She’s such a great strategist and she loves growing things,” says Borenstein.  “I see her looking for a big meaty opportunity where she can have her fingerprints all over it.”

Tilenius, who enjoys competing in triathlons and open-water swims, says her next gig “has to be something where there’s a big leadership challenge, an opportunity to make an impact and change people’s lives.” Given her background in the hot areas of consumer Internet, e-commerce, and payments, Tilenius may want to take her time deciding and hold out for the highest bidder.

For more on Tilenius, click here to watch a video of her discussing how she defines power at a Fortune Most Powerful Women dinner in San Francisco  last summer. Tilenius was also featured in Pattie’s story on female rising stars in Silicon Valley, “The New Valley Girls“, in last year’s Most Powerful Women issue, and in a related Q&A online.