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eBay’s Meg Whitman – “eBay is the last business job I will ever have”

Meg Whitman says she’ll never leave eBay for another company. “eBay is the last business job I will ever have, for sure,” said Whitman, answering an audience question this morning at her keynote presentation on the final day of the TiECON 2007 entrepreneurs conference here in Santa Clara.

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The audience member wanted to know – considering her considerable professional and personal financial success at eBay – if she’d consider leaving for another company. After all, as one of America’s most respected CEOs, she would certainly have her pick of the litter for any position.

The audience member’s question was valid. Whitman was the subject of rampant media speculation in 2004 and 2005 when it was rumored she was in contention to replace Disney’s outgoing CEO, Michael Eisner. That move never materialized. Whitman is in the midst of one of the longest uninterrupted tenures for a CEO at a single Internet company. Next March, she’ll celebrate ten years at the helm of eBay.

Whitman’s accomplishments at eBay have been unprecedented by any measure. In 1994 when she signed on as eBay’s president and CEO, eBay had fiscal year revenues of $47 million. The company closed out 2006 with revenues of $6 billion.

Today’s forceful statement of confidence should reassure employees, customers, partners and shareholders who have benefited from eBay’s enormous growth over the last nine years under her leadership.

“I love this company,” Whitman told the audience. “We make a difference – we help people do what they love.”

The need to make a difference was an underlying theme of her presentation, in which she urged the business leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs in the audience to build businesses that add meaning to people’s lives. At eBay, she said all employees receive enormous personal satisfaction knowing that the eBay platform has leveled the playing field and opened up worldwide markets and improved the livelihoods for millions of eBay users.

Reflecting on the last ten years of the Internet’s growth, Whitman said that the Internet has changed how people connect, learn, shop, pay and entertain. “The first ten years were only a warm-up,” she said, predicting enormous change and opportunities ahead for eBay.

When asked what keeps her up at night, she said she thinks a lot about how the Internet business environment has a way of changing every three months with new competitors and new technologies. She said it’s important for her to maintain eBay’s rapid decision making. “The price of inaction is greater than the cost of making a mistake,” Whitman said. “The challenge is to take smart risks.”

She said she also invests a lot of her time ensuring that eBay’s customer-centric employee culture is maintained at the highest levels of integrity. She said her rule about business integrity is very simple: Imagine your mother, father or child are sitting in on all your business meetings. A sure sign of a potential ethical lapse is when you wouldn’t feel comfortable making decisions in front of your family.

Whitman closed out the presentation by answering a question about eBay’s experience with venture capital. “Benchmark invested $3 million for 25 percent of the company,” she answered, to the laughter of the audience. “They were worth every bit of it,” she emphasized.

Today, eBay’s market cap is about $45 billion.

Mark Coker is a contributing writer for VentureBeat. He’s founder of Dovetail Public Relations, a Silicon Valley technology marketing firm. He has no clients among the companies mentioned in the story, nor among their competitors. More on Mark at http://www.linkedin.com/in/markcoker