Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman helped build the online auctioneer into an American icon and transform the way individuals do business on the Internet.
Her status in Silicon Valley rivaled that of Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison when she left the company this year after a decade to help her friend, Mitt Romney, run for president. Romney's run wasn't successful. But another bid for high office — her own as California governor in 2010 — may be in the cards.
Whitman has said she would consider a run and has retained the political consulting firm run by Steve Schmidt, former adviser to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schmidt now runs the day-to-day operations of the McCain campaign.
But the outgoing Whitman offers only a sly smile when asked about her political aspirations. When pressed on whether she would rule out a run, she says, "Never say never."
The 52-year-old billionaire — arguably the most successful female tech CEO ever, got her first taste of politics on the finance team of former candidate Romney, her boss in the '80s at consulting firm Bain & Co. She is national co-chairwoman of Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign.
Whitman lines up with McCain on many issues — especially his economic plan of lower taxes and reduced government spending. She doesn't, however, agree with his call for overturning the abortion-rights decision, Roe v. Wade.
In California, Whitman said she supports Schwarzenegger's philosophy of avoiding tax increases to address the state's budget shortfall. But she said she had not examined his proposals for across-the-board cuts closely enough to offer an opinion.
"Meg's record as a can-do executive and brilliant strategist would make her an obvious choice for leading California," Romney says.
One thing is certain: Another CEO post is unlikely.
"It was a privilege to serve (at eBay)," says Whitman, seated in the living room of her New England Colonial home in Silicon Valley, reflecting on her success at eBay ebay, political aspirations and where the Valley is headed.
"I loved every minute of it," says Whitman, who doubts she will run another company after 33 years in business.
Politics would seem a logical next step. Whether it's artfully handling a customer's exotic monkey crawling on her shoulder while signing autographs at the company's big user conference, eBay Live, or delivering a speech on the economy at the Republican National Convention, Whitman has an affinity for connecting with people.
McCain recently called her one of the three wisest people he knows and even considered her as a running mate.
"Meg has been a terrific fundraiser and has played an important strategic role (on the McCain campaign)," says Carly Fiorina, another high-profile former CEO and a top economic adviser to McCain. "We have collaborated on a range of efforts from economic policy to a focus on small business. … It has been a rare opportunity to work with Meg."
The eBay story
Whitman is one of the unlikeliest Silicon Valley billionaires. She had to be persuaded to move from Boston, where she marketed Teletubbies for Hasbro, to join eBay in 1998. She poured her renowned energy into the job, hired world-class executives and parlayed her expertise in brand-building to transform eBay into an e-commerce powerhouse.
"We went from start-up to grown-up," she says. "We made business history. At its core, eBay helped people make a living doing what they love."