eBay’s Meg Whitman

The Economist has a profile of the “queen of the online flea market” and looks ahead to the challenges she faces:

Mrs Whitman is concentrating on making the existing business bigger and better. For her, this has to be the way forward, not least because it is also the way that the eBay community is directing the firm. Mrs Whitman sees her job not just as a chief executive, but also partly as something like a mayor running a town-hall meeting. Her constituents want her to provide the best infrastructure for them to get on with doing their own business with one another. And they would like her to make sure everyone keeps to the rules. Many individuals and companies now depend on eBay to reach their customers. Several million part-time businesses are run on eBay, and it is reckoned that tens of thousands of people have given up their jobs to make a full-time living selling on the site. They often see eBay as a way of profiting from a hobby or other interest.

Looking out for the interests of millions of online entrepreneurs as they click through auctions of mostly second-hand and clearance stock might not appear as glamorous as cutting deals with big retailers. But it is as necessary. The biggest advantage of eBay is its size and the networking effect which that creates. If you are a seller, it is the place with the most buyers; if you are a buyer, it is the place with the most price information.

The advantage of size can only grow as eBay expands overseas, which is why Mrs Whitman is so keen on venturing abroad. She is finding it easy to build a multinational that is able to think globally, but act locally. The firm’s foreign sites rapidly become local, as the traders use their own language and establish their terms of trade.

This will probably gladden Baazee: “As the company spreads across Europe and Asia, it usually does so by buying what Mrs Whitman calls `baby eBays’, local imitators who help pioneer the concept. She is currently eyeing such a firm in India, which could be a potentially huge new market to enter.”

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.