Meg Whitman Bio: How Did She Become One of the Richest Women on Earth?

Charismatic, transformational, creative. That’s how Meg Whitman’s inner circle usually describes this successful American businesswoman and politician.

Her life story revolves around hard work, dedication, and smartly seized opportunities. Associated with brands like Procter & Gamble, eBay, Quibi, HP, and Disney, this powerhouse of a businesswoman is a well-respected achiever with an exceptionally impressive CV.

Moreover, she also currently ranks third on the list of Top 20 self-made American female billionaires and the fifth wealthiest woman in California. Back in 2014, she even ranked 20th in the Forbes list of the world’s most powerful women.

Nevertheless, even such a strong-headed, successful, and experienced woman is not immune to failures and controversies. Let’s examine Meg Whitman’s career and personal background in detail to see what makes her who she is.

Meg Whitman’s Bio Facts

Full Name: Margaret Cushing Whitman  
Birth Date: August 4, 1956  
Birth Place: Huntington, New York, U.S.  
Nick Name: Meg  
Nationality: American  
Siblings: 2 (both older)  
Children: William Harsh, Griffith Rutherford Harsh V  
Partner / Spouse: Griffith Harsh IV  
Profession: Business executive, politician, ambassador  
Salary: $10 Million annually  
Net Worth: $3.1 billion  
Social Media: N/A  
Companies Associated With: eBay, Hewlett-Packard, Quibi, Procter & Gamble, Hasbro, etc.  
Last Updated: May 2022  

Meg Whitman’s Key Facts Summary

  • She comes from a prominent and well-to-do Boston family but grew up on Long Island.
  • Meg Whitman is known for increasing eBay’s sales from $4 million to $8 billion while serving as the company’s CEO (1998 – 2008).
  • In 2008, Whitman was inducted into the U.S. Business Hall of Fame.
  • She was CEO of Hewlett-Packard during its major split (2011 – 2015).
  • She served as CEO of Quibi, a short video platform that only operated for a couple of months before being shut down.
  • In 2010, Whitman was a candidate for the governor of California. Despite waging a massive campaign, Jerry Brown triumpher over her.
  • Although she is a Republican, Whitman endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and Joe Biden in 2020.
  • As of May 2022, she is waiting for the senate’s approval to become Ambassador to Kenya.

Meg Whitman’s Birthplace and Early Life

Margaret “Meg” Whitman was born in 1956 in Huntington, New York. She is the youngest of three children in a wealthy and prominent family, growing up in an exclusive waterfront ‘Big Gatsby’-style neighborhood on Long Island.

Meg’s father, Hendricks, ran a loan business. Despite her mother, also called Margaret, being a homemaker, she had her ambitions too. In the early 1970s, for example, she was part of a rare all-female delegation to China, which Meg recalled as an inspirational experience.

Despite being born with dysplasia, Whitman was a gifted athlete, acting as captain of the high school swim team and engaging in other sports. In 1973, she began attending Princeton, initially planning to become a doctor. But the more she knew about medicine, the less attracted she was.

She found her niche in business instead and landed her first job as an advertising salesperson for a student magazine. Four years later, Meg entered Harvard and earned her master’s degree in business administration.

Meg Whitman’s Career and Business Success

As a bright, gifted, and vibrant Ivy League graduate, Meg Whitman received numerous job offers immediately after leaving school. In 1979, she landed the position of brand manager at Procter & Gamble, working mainly with the Noxzema skin care products team.

She didn’t stay with the company long, though, moving on to work as a consultant and later senior vice president of a prominent consulting firm Bain & Company.

During her early career, her other notable work experiences include serving as a marketing vice president at Disney, president for Stride Rite, president & CEO for Florists Transworld Delivery, and executive director at Hasbro.

Then, a headhunter reached out to offer Meg Whitman an opportunity that changed everything.

eBay

In 1997, a small company called AuctionWeb looked for a new leader that could push the ambitious project to the next level. Back then, the platform was merely anything more than a collection of classified ads and Whitman later admitted she never even heard of it at that point.

But she didn’t turn down the bold offer of collaboration right away, agreeing to fly to California for an interview. Impressed by the sense of community and enthusiasm in the firm, Whitman eventually agreed to take the job despite it being quite a risky step back in her career.

The company, by then already renamed eBay, had just 19 employees and focused mostly on online auctions enhanced with direct feedback from verified users. Just one year into Meg’s engagement with the platform, the traffic grew so much that eBay’s servers were falling.

Meg proved to be a hands-on leader and learned all she could about digital technologies from scratch. She also oversaw the brand’s initial public offering of stock in 1998 and helped eBay grow into one of the greatest American digital businesses.

During her time with eBay, (1998 – 2008) Meg Whitman increased the platform’s sales from $4 million to $8 billion, becoming one of the most respected and acclaimed business leaders in the entire country.

In November 2007, Whitman resigned as CEO of eBay but stayed on the company’s board until late 2008.

HP4

HP Logo at MacWorld 2011 | HP had one of the larger booths a… | Flickr

After resigning from eBay, Meg focused on her attempts at a political career (see more details below), but in 2011, she was ready for another major business assignment. This time, an offer came from one of the world’s greatest tech companies, Hewlett-Packard.

Whitman first joined HP’s board of directors but soon became the company’s CEO. Ambitious and eager to focus on HP’s big comeback in the PC market and the field of research and development, Whitman had grand plans.

But the timing wasn’t ideal, and HP was underperforming by 30% on the stock market under Whitman’s lead. In 2013, Bloomberg even named Meg Whitman The Most Underachieving CEO, considering her brave but fast and risky decisions harmful to the company.

Despite all the obstacles, in 2015, Whitman orchestrated one of the boldest corporate splits in history, dividing the company in two: HP Inc focused on PCs and printers, and HPE, a division for software and networking.

She became the CEO of HPE, the smaller yet potentially more dynamic of the two newly formed branches, and stayed in the position until 2018.

Political Career

Meg Whitman has always identified herself as a republican and often shared her political visions and opinions. In 2008, she first engaged in politics openly as a part of the financial team of Mitt Romney in his presidential campaign.

She also endorsed other republican candidates, including McCain and Christie, in their presidential efforts. Yet, when it came to Donald Trump, Whitman loudly expressed her disapproval, famously likening him to “Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.”

Subsequently, Meg Whitman publicly supported Hillary Clinton in her 2016 campaign and currently serving democratic president Joe Biden in 2020.

In 2010, Meg ran her election campaign in an (unsuccessful) attempt to become Governor of California (I’ll discuss this in detail shortly).

By the end of 2021, Biden nominated Meg Whitman to act as the next U.S. ambassador to Kenya. As of May 2022, she is waiting for the senate’s approval to acquire this position.

Meg Whitman’s Youtube Videos

In this 2015 interview, Meg Whitman addresses the leadership, integrity, and courage it takes to be a good, respected, and efficient leader. At the time of recording, Meg was CEO of HP.

This video is a part of Duke University’s Distinguished Speaker Series recorded in 2015. Whitman speaks about the most critical steps in her career and various business strategy frameworks she found efficient.

In this 2020 video, Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg introduce Quibi, their app-based platform for short videos. Whitman discusses the whole concept and the potential of digital media in general.

Meg Whitman’s Business and Political Failures

Meg Whitman’s life story is full of exemplary accomplishments, but she is no stranger to failures either.

2010 Gubernatorial Campaign

In February 2009, Meg Whitman announced her candidacy for governor of California in the upcoming 2010 election. Her massive campaign was mainly self-funded; she spent about $144 million on it. But her main rival, Jerry Brown, still won. What happened?

Several crushing controversies accompanied Whitman’s campaign. It was revealed, for example, that Whitman herself did not vote for the last 28 years, which she later publicly apologized for.

Another blow came with Whitman’s former housekeeper, Ms. Santillan, who stated she worked for Whitman when she was an illegal immigrant, and the politician knew it. Santillan also claimed that she was fired because of the campaign itself.

Although Whitman defended herself, stating that she never knew about Santillan’s illegal status and called the whole affair politically motivated, the case hurt her image and robbed her of the chance to win. Another controversial factor in the play was her ties to Goldman Sachs.

Quibi

In 2020, Meg Whitman and Jeff Katzenberg invested almost $1.8 billion into a short video digital platform called Quibi. The ambitious project launched in April with 50 streaming shows cut into bite-size shorties, initially available for free to anyone.

The pair of founders knew each other from the times when they both worked at the Walt Disney Company. Their idea was to create a competition for YouTube and similar streaming platforms (check our youtube competitor analysis), counting on their growing popularity during the pandemics.

Initially, it worked out well. Quibi saw 300,000 downloads, ranking No. 3 in the App Store, on its launch day and 1.7 million downloads during the release week. However, just a few weeks later, the app fell to No. 125, and the founders had to admit that it was a disappointment.

Paradoxically, Katzenberg blamed the factor he initially believed to play in their favor – the pandemics. The company made adjustments like adding AirPlay/Chromecast functionality and reducing the app’s ad-free version price, but it made no difference.

Since only a tiny fraction of free-trial users converted their subscription to paid, Quibi could not support itself. In October 2020, a mere six months from Quibi’s launch, the app was shutting down.

Did Quibi need just more time? Maybe. But as Whitman later stated, the responsible thing to do was to admit defeat and payout all the shareholders while the company still had sufficient assets.

Meg Whitman’s Family

Meg Whitman met her husband Griffith R. Harsh shortly after graduating from Harvard while working for Procter and Gamble. The couple married in 1980, and after 42 years, they are still happily married.

Harsh is an acclaimed neurosurgeon, and the couple moved a lot during their time together to support their mutual career shifts. They have two children, Griffith Rutherford Harsh V (eldest) and William Whitman Harsh.

Both sons of Whitman and Harsh studied at Princeton. However, both had a bad reputation for acting as problematic billionaire sons. The eldest, Griffith, was even arrested and accused of raping one of his classmates. The case was later settled in silence, though.

Meg Whitman’s Net Worth and Career Earnings

The Digital Transformation of Industries: Meg Whitman spea… | Flickr

As of May 2022, Meg Whitman’s net worth is around $3.1 billion. Although that is undoubtedly an impressive wealth, the truth is that it’s just about half of Whitman’s net worth in 2021. It’s probably fair to say that Whitman’s finances are going through turbulent times.

Concerning her salary, it is estimated to be about $10,000,000 per year, but since Meg Whitman engages in different businesses, serves on numerous boards, and also has some assets in private investments, this figure can be inaccurate.

Meg Whitman’s Real Estate Holdings

Meg Whitman is no collector of posh property, but she owned at least several notable residencies.

Atherton Residence

Like many other successful people related to Silicon Valle (including the billionaire investor Tim Draper – check out our Tim Draper’s bio), Meg Whitman owns a residence in Atherton, CA.

A little is known about the exact size, layout, or equipment of the Whitman family home, but the area is known for opulence and boasts excellent accessibility to San Francisco’s downtown and Silicon Valley’s main business hubs.

The house’s value is not publicly available. Still, since Atherton is the most expensive real estate ZIP code in the whole country and the average property price increases by around 40 percent each year, it is most likely a very costly house to own.

The property gained some media attention when a handful of protesters gathered in front of it to express their concern over Whitman’s backing of solutions that protect the wealthiest 1% of Californians while locking the economic growth of the remaining 99%.

The pictures of Whitman’s residence showed a humble southern-style mansion with a white fence, dark green window shutters, and a perfectly cared for grass lane..

West Hollywood Condominium

In 2018, Meg Whitman bought a condominium at the Sierra Towers in West Hollywood. The condo previously belonged to Elliot Grainge, owner of the record label TenThousand Projects, and sold for $6.5 million.

The two-bedroom residence provides 2,300 square feet of luxurious living space. It boasts views extending from the ocean to the cityscape through exquisite floor-to-ceiling windows or from the generous terrace. There’s also a fitness, pool, and 24-hour concierge.

While it is unknown whether the businesswoman occupied the condo herself or used it for some other purpose, in August 2020, she put the property back on the market at the same price she bought it two years prior.

Meg Whitman Quotes

The Digital Transformation of Industries: Meg Whitman spea… | Flickr

“Problems are good as long as you solve them quickly.”

“When people use your brand name as a verb, that is remarkable.”

“Regulation is strangling businesses of all sizes in California, and we’ve got to streamline regulation, so it’s easy, not hard, to do business.”

“Communications is at the heart of e-commerce and community.”

“‘Perfect’ is the enemy of ‘good enough’..”

“To be effective, leaders must have the qualities and attitudes essential to work in a group setting.”

“When a small business grows as eBay did, it has a multiplier effect. It creates other small businesses that supply it with intellectual capital, goods, and services.”

“If we don’t rededicate ourselves to education with the same attitude Americans have applied to go to the moon and fighting wars, the results will be profound. We will gradually lose our successful workforce.”

“If you have fun at your job, I think you’re going to be more effective.”

“I’m not a career politician. I spent 30 years in business. I can tell you that people in California have had it with career politicians: they are done.”

FAQs

Question: How did Meg Whitman become a billionaire?

Answer: Meg Whitman was born to a prominent family, so she was always well-off. Nevertheless, the astronomic wealth she acquired in her adult life comes mainly from her work in leading positions for companies like eBay, Disney, and Hewlett-Packard.

Question: What kinds of leadership behaviors does Whitman engage in?

Answer: Whitman has been both praised and criticized for her leadership style. She is known to be reliable, proactive, and devoted to integrity. On the other hand, some observers object that her approach is too mellow and lacks the desired decisiveness.

Question: Who is Meg Whitman’s husband?

Answer: In 1980, Meg Whitman married neurosurgeon Griffith Rutherford Harsh IV. Meg’s husband is a direct descendant of Griffith Rutherford, a Revolutionary War General and a state senator of North Carolina.

Recommended Reads:

Research and Citations

https://www.notablebiographies.com/news/Sh-Z/Whitman-Meg.html

https://www.visualcapitalist.com/richest-women-in-america/

https://www.azquotes.com/author/15604-Meg_Whitman

https://inmenlo.com/2012/04/10/protesters-speak-out-for-the-99-in-front-of-meg-whitmans-atherton-home/

https://www.cnbc.com/2014/05/09/atherton-mansion-madness-homes-of-the-rich-and-tech-famous.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/dawnchmielewski/2020/04/03/coronavirus-lockdown-will-boost-jeff-katzenbergs-and-meg-whitmans-new-mobile-streaming-service-quibi/?sh=5ae8d24255c3

https://www.businessinsider.in/tech/the-amazing-life-of-meg-whitman-one-of-the-worlds-most-powerful-women/slidelist/49474848.cms

Scroll to Top