Will Meg Whitman stay the course as HP CEO?
Hewlett-Packard's new boss is one of Silicon Valley's most successful women. She's also a free-spending political failure sometimes known as 'Evil Meg'
Meg Whitman faces a daunting task as she takes the job at one of world's biggest technology companies.
The firm's last three bosses have all left under a cloud. Carly Fiorina clashed with the company's beloved founding family and was dubbed the "anti-Steve Jobs" for all she did for HP. Her successor, Mark Hurd, was axed amid scandal involving a former porn star and accusations of fiddling his expenses. Léo Apotheker lasted 11 months and presided over a halving in the firm's value. The company's board is reportedly so dysfunctional most of them didn't even interview Apotheker, they were too busy arguing.
Whitman, former boss of eBay, is set to take over from Apotheker immediately, the company announced today. She has the advantage of being available as she is both a non-executive director of HP and failed to secure the last job she really wanted, the governorship of California, after spending a record $144m on her campaign.
"Meg is a technology visionary with a proven track record of execution. She is a strong communicator who is customer focused with deep leadership capabilities," HP chairman Ray Lane said in a statement. She is also a woman who, according to court documents, is referred to as "Good Meg" or "Evil Meg" by colleagues and who once ended up with a $200,000 legal bill after pushing over an underling in a meeting.
Margaret Cushing "Meg" Whitman, 55, is a Harvard grad who cut her teeth in toyland. She was in charge of Mr Potato Head among others at Hasbro and went on to work for Walt Disney before becoming one of Silicon Valley's most successful executives. She joined eBay, the online auction firm, in 1998 when it had just 30 employees and was instrumental in turning the firm into a global giant. In the process she built a $1.3bn fortune and became one of the hottest tech executives in the valley.
She is also one of the more notorious. Her career post-eBay has been patchy. The auction giant has been at war with Craigslist, the free listing site, for a number of years. In court documents it was revealed staff had dual nicknames for Whitman and that in her frustration with Craigslist brought out the "monster".
It wasn't the only time her aggressive side had been displayed. Whitman once shoved a communications officer, a move that ended in a law suit and a reported $200,000 settlement.
And the California voters proved immune to her tactics. With a total spend of $144m, mostly of her own money, Whitman spent $43 for each of the 4,127,391 votes she received in the 2010 election, losing to Jerry Brown, who spent $36m. During the campaign it was revealed that Whitman herself had not voted for 28 years, a record she described as "atrocious" and had ruthlessly dumped her longtime housekeeper when it emerged she was an illegal alien - and consequently a political liability.
HP will be hoping they have hired eBay Meg not California Meg. The knives are already out. "Worst politician ever to run worst tech company ever," said Gawker when she was appointed.
But for a woman who clearly relishes a challenge, perhaps HP is the next best thing to running California. They're both massive and maladjusted. And if it all goes wrong she, can always put her stuff on eBay.
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