On November 1, Hewlett-Packard – one of the nation’s biggest and most venerable tech companies – is going to cleave itself into two huge Fortune 50 companies.
It is doing so under the stewardship of CEO Meg Whitman, who has spent the last four years trying to steer the big company through a turnaround to stop its declining profits and revenues.
This is just the latest big deal for Whitman, who has had a life and a career full of big deals during her legendary rise at internet-company eBay and her entrance into GOP politics.
Her life and her career sounds like a Hollywood movie, but it’s not – it’s real.
Meg Whitman was born in 1956 on Long Island, New York, in Oyster Bay, an affluent area that was one of the inspirational settings for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Her parents came from families tied to Boston’s elite, known as the “Boston Brahmins.”
Her parents served in World War II. Her mom, Margaret Whitman, was an airplane and truck mechanic for the Red Cross in New Guinea.
Whitman was born with a birth defect called dysplasia: Her left hip lacked a socket, discovered as a newborn. She was strapped into a stiff metal brace with leather straps until age 3, when it was removed. It worked! She could walk and run normally.
Source: Whitman’s book “The Power of Many“
Whitman was an avid athlete as a child playing tennis, figure skating, playing lacrosse, and competitive swimming, and she was a great student. At first, she wanted to be a doctor and went to Princeton University to study medicine. While there, however, she changed her mind and major to economics. She also earned an MBA from Harvard University.
- YouTube via Meg2010Campaign
Whitman’s sister, Anne, struggled with mental illness brought on by a postpartum depression psychosis. The illness cost Anne her job. Anne eventually went on to found several mental-health organizations, and Whitman proudly talked about her sister in her book “The Power of Many.”
- Flickr/Robert Couse-Baker
Whitman began her career at P&G in the Cincinnati office in 1979. During training, she discovered that the company wouldn’t issue credit cards to its female trainees because the company didn’t think it was safe for women to travel alone. She stood up against the policy and got P&G to change it.
Today, Whitman is on the board of directors at P&G.
Whitman moved on to toy company Hasbro, where she was responsible for the company’s most precious toy: Mr. Potato Head, one of the oldest continuously produced children’s toys, invented in 1952. Whitman led Hasbro’s Playskool division, which had 600 employees and $600 million in annual sales under her.
At Hasbro, Whitman brought the UK’s children’s television show “Teletubbies” into the US. “Teletubbies” was a weird kids’ show that ran from 1998 through 2008, if you include reruns.
Whitman had to be convinced to leave her high-profile role at Hasbro to take the CEO job at eBay.
When Whitman joined eBay in 1998, it had 30 employees and $4 million in revenue. When she left in 2008, it had about 15,000 employees and $8 billion in revenue, and she was a billionaire.
- REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Whitman was known for being a demanding boss at eBay. There was a widely reported story that Whitman allegedly shoved one of her employees, then reportedly paid the employee a $200,000 settlement over the matter, after which both patched up their differences.
Meg Whitman is married to brain surgeon and Rhodes Scholar Dr. Griffith R. Harsh IV, a professor of neurosurgery at Stanford. She met him at when she was a sophomore at Princeton but they didn’t date until years later, after she invited him to her sister’s wedding and he forgot and blew her off. He then called her to apologize, and ask her out. What she didn’t tell him at the time was that her sister had also invited five other attractive, eligible men as potential dates for Meg at her wedding.
Whitman and Harsh have two sons, Griff Harsh V, and younger brother William Harsh. Both sons went to Princeton and both boys, especially Griff V, had reputations as billionaire bad boys while at Princeton. Whitman donated $30 million to Princeton in 2002, the place where she met her husband, and the Whitman College residence is named for her.
- Princeton University
Whitman is an avid fly fisherwoman. When her oldest son was 16, he fell in love with fly fishing and got Whitman into it. She used to buy a lot of fly-fishing equipment on eBay when she was CEO there.
- Flickr/Loren Kerns
Whitman lives in the exclusive Atherton, California, neighborhood in a white-clapboard colonial home. Mark Hurd, Eric Schmidt, and Sheryl Sandberg have all owned homes there.
- Bing Maps
Whitman has a net worth these days of about $2 billion. She has not signed Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge, vowing to give away most of her wealth to charity, but her family does have its own charitable foundation, with roughly $108 million in assets that donates to health, education, and environmental causes.
- Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Whitman famously ran for California governor on the Republican ticket in 2010 and lost to Jerry Brown. She spent more of her own money on the race than any other self-funded political candidate in US history at the time — $144 million of her own out of the $178.5 million raised, including donors.
- Flickr/Tracie Hall
Whitman credits her political campaign for teaching her all kinds of skills about communicating with people while being CEO. She calls politics a “very tough business.”
Whitman joined HP’s board in January 2011, when Léo Apotheker was CEO. Later that year, HP paid $11 billion for Autonomy, which turned into a huge disaster for the company. HP dismissed Apotheker and asked Whitman to become CEO.
Whitman’s first few years at HP meant delivering one big bit of bad news after another. She had to write off most of the Autonomy acquisition, and also did big write-downs on other acquisitions like EDS and Compaq. She also announced a massive layoff plan that began in 2012, targeting 25,000 employees and is still going, having since spiraled to 80,000.
- REUTERS/Stephen Lam
After rumored talks to acquire EMC failed, Whitman decided to take the drastic measure of splitting HP into two companies. Each divided company will still be huge, Fortune 50 companies. The split will take place November 1.
- Flickr/HP Enterprise
Meg Whitman will remain CEO of the new HP company, HP Enterprise, and she will be chairman of the other, HP Inc.
- Business Insider
Last year, Whitman earned total compensation of over $19 million as the leader of HP, landing her as No. 7 on Fortune’s list of highest paid women and No. 7 on Fortune’s 2015 list of the world’s most powerful women.