Aug 032010
Meg Whitman
Image via Wikipedia

In the latest round of campaign numbers released yesterday, Meg Whitman reported that her spending had topped $99 million. Undoubtedly displeased by the lack of a “Buy It Now” button for the governor’s office, $91 million of that total came from Whitman’s own money. But being a billionaire, with wealth estimated by Forbes at $1.3 billion, there’s no question that the former CEO of eBay can afford the expense. The real question is, “can California afford Meg Whitman?”

With California sitting at over 12% unemployment and facing a $20 billion budget shortfall over the next 18 months, Whitman is running as the person who can cure these economic woes. In order to accomplish this, she intends to focus on three key initiatives: creating jobs, cutting spending, and fixing education.

Having no prior experience in government service, the Whitman campaign is relying mostly upon her record at eBay to substantiate claims that she has the savvy to succeed were others have failed. Spot on is Whitman’s focus on job creation, and her campaign wants voters to believe that she is the person who can make it happen. They claim that since Whitman’s time at eBay resulted in a growth of employees from 170 to over 15,000, she alone has the experienced required.

But is this prima facie evidence that Ms. Whitman can create jobs in California?

Unlike her Republican counterpart running for Senate against Barbara Boxer, there is no doubt that Whitman knows how to run a company. She did preside over a period of extreme growth for eBay, but one has to ask themselves, how much of that growth was due to Whitman. When she arrived at eBay, although small, they had tapped into a previously undiscovered niche in Internet commerce. They already had a successful product and were set to expand. Whitman did a commendable job of overseeing the expansion, but to give her credit over product and timing is naïve.

As CEO, the job is largely strategic, and a sound argument can definitely be made that many of Whitman’s efforts in that area were less than successful. In fact, her single biggest strategic move was the purchase of Skype at a price of $2.6 billion. Yet she pushed this through without a clear concept of how eBay would make money from the endeavor. The company was forced to write down the value of Skype in 2007 to a little more than half of what it had paid — $1.4 billion. Another of Whitman’s acquisitions, StumbleUpon, was left for her successor to lift into the black. But having no real fit with what eBay does, Skype was finally sold and StumbleUpon was spun off.

So, if a candidate has no government experience, has only created jobs in an environment of rapid growth, and is arguably a bit weak in the strategic leadership department, what exactly are voters to believe makes Meg Whitman a good candidate for governor?

More about that in Part 2 — a look at the Whitman job plan.

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