When Margaret C. Whitman signed up as CEO of eBay Inc. (EBAY) three years ago, the Long Island (N.Y.) native's preppy appearance and Old Economy experience didn't seem to fit the online flea market's freewheeling culture. So what? Whitman, an alumna of Hasbro toys (HAS), Florists Transworld Delivery, and children's shoemaker Stride Rite (SRR), was just what the funky upstart needed--especially as dozens of dot-coms crashed and burned last year.
In contrast, eBay has managed to make money while still growing like a weed. Its 2000 revenues were expected to jump 87%, to $420 million--its cut of nearly $5.3 billion in merchandise sales in its 250 million auctions. When she joined, Whitman had a gut feeling eBay could be big, but admits: "It has surpassed my wildest expectations."
And everyone else's, thanks in part to Whitman's marketing savvy, honed while managing lines such as Hasbro's Mr. Potato Head. She also imposed old-fashioned discipline, managing cash and booting off fraudulent sellers. She even got her hands dirty when the Web site continually crashed in 1999, pulling all-nighters alongside her staff. This year, Whitman has plunged eBay into categories such as autos, which now account for 30% of gross sales, and into new countries. But newer customers are producing less revenue than older ones. That worries investors, who have slashed the stock price by 70% from its high of $111 a share in March.
In 2001, Whitman, 44, plans fewer big moves. That might give her more time to spend with her husband and two teenage boys and indulge her passion, fly-fishing--with gear bought on eBay, of course.