In a bad economy, this sorry state has the worst credit rating and the highest taxes. The former eBay chief wants to run it like a business. Is that a good thing?
A grand gamble
Her record at eBay gives clues to the kind of governor Meg Whitman would be. She was famously hands-on. “If we had a 911, which is what we called a site outage or other emergency,” says OpenTable CEO Jeff Jordan, who ran eBay North America and then PayPal, “it was all hands on deck, and you weren’t going to sleep till you were done.” Whitman consistently met ever-rising quarterly profit expectations until 2006. “Meg used to say, ‘Last time I looked, the long term is made up of quarters,'” says Rajiv Dutta, eBay’s former CFO who went on to head PayPal. (Recently retired, Dutta, a Democrat, is another campaign finance co-chairman.) When Whitman tried to be a visionary, she sometimes scored (buying PayPal) and other times didn’t: She took a $1.4 billion write-down on Skype, acquired for $3.1 billion. “Did we pay too much? Yes,” she says, while insisting that eBay is better off owning Skype. Clearly outdone by Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500) and Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), eBay is undergoing its own reinvention by Whitman’s successor, John Donahoe. Analysts speculate that he may sell the Internet telephony service. No question, her latest career move is Whitman’s grandest gamble yet. In the governor’s race, the one person who would probably beat her and anyone else who enters is Dianne Feinstein, the U.S. senator who has broad popularity across California. But Feinstein, ever formidable at 75, recently moved up to chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Though she has long wanted to be governor, most people think Feinstein would be crazy to give up her powerful position in Washington.