SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Meg Whitman, one of Silicon Valley’s best-known executives, said in an interview that her planned retirement, announced earlier on Wednesday, would free her to focus more on philanthropy and politics.
This year, Whitman said she would remain on the boards of eBay Inc (EBAY.O), Procter & Gamble Co (PG.N) and DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc DWA.N, and become more involved in running her family’s foundation with her husband, a neurosurgeon.
She also said she will continue campaigning this year on behalf of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a former colleague when both worked at consulting firm Bain & Co. “I will continue to help my long-time friend, Mitt,” she said.
In a surprisingly open race, the former Massachusetts governor is in a statistical tie with Sen. John McCain for the lead in Florida, where the next big primary contest for the Republican nomination takes place.
Whitman said she was still considering her options for 2009 and beyond and declined to comment further.
On March 31, Whitman is set to hand off the leadership to CEO-in-waiting John Donahoe, now head of eBay’s mainstay marketplaces business. In 2005, Whitman recruited Donahoe, a former employee of hers at Bain, to join eBay management.
Whitman said she plans to play an advisory role to Donahoe through the rest of 2008, working at a reduced salary. Whitman is estimated to be worth $1.4 billion, according to Forbes, which ranked her number 361 in a survey of 400 billionaires.
Earlier, on a conference call with Wall Street investors to discuss eBay’s 2007 year-end results, she said many innovations that now allow hundreds of millions of people to shop online made their debut on eBay under her watch.
Whitman said helping some 1.3 million people now earn money on eBay, the world’s largest e-commerce site and now a $7.7 billion annual revenue company, was one of her proudest accomplishments over a decade on the job.
“I will miss ... the chance to help people launch businesses,” Whitman told Reuters in an interview afterward.
Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest private employer, counts 1.4 million employees in the United States and 1.9 million worldwide in its network of discount stores. By contrast, most eBay store operators work from home or in small businesses.
Her toughest time at eBay was in 1999, when, a year after joining the company, the eBay Web site faced repeated shutdowns that ran on for several hours or days. She recalls with nervous laughter how TV trucks camped outside eBay headquarters.
Another challenge was her decision to expand into Europe and Asia and then having to persevere when the company continued to lose money on the moves.
EBay is now the dominant e-commerce company in the United States, Germany and Britain -- its three biggest markets -- but the company has struggled to keep pace with e-commerce rivals in Japan and China, Asia’s biggest markets for e-commerce.
A third tricky moment, she said, came when eBay elected to pay $1.5 billion in 2002 for online payments rival PayPal. The value of the deal represented 8 percent of eBay’s stock market capitalization at that time.
PayPal is now the world’s largest online payments service, generating $563 million in revenue, or about 20 percent of eBay’s fourth quarter total revenue of $2.18 billion.
Editing by Braden Reddall