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Ebay's Meg Whitman Talks Tech and Policy

Kim Hart

Meg Whitman retired from Ebay in March after a 10-year stint as president and CEO. Since then, she's been immersed in the Republican presidential campaign, first helping to raise more than $70 million for Mitt Romney's campaign, and now pitching in as a top business adviser for John McCain's run.

In February, she said, McCain's team was a start-up, made up of 40 people in its Arlington headquarters. "We tried to take the McCain campaign from a start-up to a grown-up in six months."

Meg Whitman, former CEO of Ebay, talks to members of the Northern Virginia Tech Council Monday night. Credit: NVTC

She did the same with Ebay, although it took a bit longer than six months. She spoke about the lessons she learned during the process at the Northern Virginia Technology Council's fall banquet last night.

The most important thing she learned, she said, is that "you need the right person in the right job at the right time with the right values....We had to reorganize early and often." She also said you have to be willing to take chances: "The cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of making mistakes...We're like sharks---if we stop swimming, we die."

On the policy front, she talked about the economy, education and taxes. She's most concerned about the state of math and science education and high school drop out rates.

"If we do not rededicate ourselves to education the same way Americans have dedicated themselves to going to the moon and fighting wars, we will not produce a workforce capable of handling the high-paying jobs of the future," she said.

She emphasized the need for ubiquitous broadband in order to help businesses thrive and support new jobs. She applauded Virginia for its efforts to help start-ups and small businesses by streamlining the registration process to operate in the state. Virginia also allows tax credits for angel investors, whose willingness to invest in relatively risky ventures is key to innovation, she said.

The need for more H1B visas is also a sticking point for her, and one that got many nods in agreement from the audience. Currently, the government allows about 60,000 visas per year, which she called "woefully inadequate." The real need is more like 500,000 visas, she said. Bill Gates has testified before Congress many times on this issue.

As a place to start a business, Virginia ranks at the top, she said. California, where Ebay is headquartered, recently ranked on the low end of the scale. "If we were to be starting Ebay again, would we choose California? Probably no," she said.

On the topic of the financial crisis, she said the "number one priority of economic growth is how many jobs you're creating."

"That should be the lens through which every type of policy is viewed," she said.

Government itself is stuck with old-fashioned ways of doing things, with "outdated bureaucratic structures, out-of-control spending patterns and over-reliance on taxes," she said. "Government needs to change it's ways."

What will Whitman's own role be after next Tuesday? She didn't say much last night, but she told USA Today last month that she hasn't ruled out a run for governor of California.
She's retained the political consulting firm run by Steve Schmidt, who now runs the daily operations of the McCain campaign.

By Kim Hart  |  October 28, 2008; 3:30 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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"Government needs to change it's [sic] ways."

Posted by: subwayguy | October 28, 2008 4:04 PM

I would consider Meg Whitman's efforts to hire American citizens "woefully inadequate". In the midst of an economic downturn there are a host of qualified American IT Workers and resident Green Card Holders who can very capably fill the positions that Ms. Whitman and Mr. Gates list. Enough billionaire bail outs. Bring on President Obama.

Posted by: AmericanITWorker | October 28, 2008 6:19 PM

There are already TOO many of these supposedly badly-needed H-1B visas being granted. 20% of the applications are based on cheats and fraud. Please read the facts from these links to major industry journals:

Foreign H-1B workers do not have a record of improving the bottom-line of corporations. Some of the biggest users of H-1Bs were the collapsed Wall Street financial services companies, and some of the most screwed-up IT departments I've seen have been dominated by H-1B imports. The most successful versions of Windows were the versions from the last century, before Microsoft started relying on so many H-1Bs. H-1B imported workers drive down the wages and working condition of U.S. citizen workers.

Meg Whitman is obviously a country-club elitist neo-con. Her type has absolutely no concern for the average American worker, and I believe that she doesn't know what she is talking about outside from her unquenchable desire to get more work for less. A half-million H-1B workers flooding into the country would decimate the hopes, prospects, and wages of U.S. IT workers, and would clear out US citizens from all IT curricula at American universities.

Posted by: USVoter1 | October 28, 2008 8:40 PM

AmericanITworkers writes "bring on President Obama!"

haven't you heard... Obama thinks there's a shortage of skilled workers and calls for an increase in the H-1B Cap!
So does McCain. Either way you (we) lose !
Looks like we got fooled again!
For more check:

Posted by: Rbengrguy | October 29, 2008 7:57 AM

What isn't addressed is the complete abuse by corporations of this program. The big companies are using smaller ones as their proxies to hire cheap labor.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs are going to unqualified h-1b workers, who are hired first by a small head hunter firm and then leased to larger companies such as Oracle, Microsoft, Google, Netflix, Ebay,...

One reform which is needed badly, is to make sure that all hiring of h-1b applicants should be for full-time positions, and no contract position. Sub-contracting is a huge area of abuse. The sub-contracting allows companies such as Google, Cisco, Microsoft... to be insulated from actually having to make sure that the h-1b worker is truly qualified for the job.

I have witnessed this first hand.

I have interviewed candidates from Google who didn't understand how to kill a running process on Unix, yet claimed to be Unix experts.

Very recently, I have interviewed candidates from Ebay that didn't know what a jar or war file was, yet still claimed complete java, tomcat, and JSP expertise.

(when questioned further some of these candidates revealed they were contracting to these companies through small head-hunter firms)

The h-1b program is killing U.S. business. The same companies that were before Congress this year and last, claiming that they needed more H-1b workers, are now laying off workers or are in a hiring freeze.

I guess the fat-cats are truly insulated from being called into court for lying to Congress.

Ebay is laying off.

Google won't admit it, but they are in a hiring freeze.

Yahoo is laying off.

Oracle quietly laid off 500 programmers this year.

In a recession, the h-1b count should be allowed to go to zero.

Posted by: jake_leone | October 29, 2008 11:07 AM

Interesting name 'Kim Hart'. You sure don't have a heart, pushing a labor glut in what could be a depression when the H-1b program has been proven over and over again by the immigration department and Senator Grassley to be loaded with fraud to lower wages and displace American citizens.

A lot of people are going to be hurt economically in the coming period, and nobody deserves it more than someone who pushes cheap labor propaganda that destroys the lives of strangers.

I hope you learn about economic hardship personally Kim, I think it's the only way someone like you could ever understand it.

Posted by: bezrf | October 29, 2008 11:44 AM

Oh brother, the dwindling middle class isn't spending and the economy is in freefall - and now people like this lady want to put even more tech workers on the unemployment lines.

John McCain - read our lips - outsourcing, cheap foreign labor, and offshoring are killing this country - more of it will drive the nails into the coffin. We need to bring tech jobs back and do it now. For many reasons including national security. Whoever can make that happen will win the presidency but as rbengrguy said - neither candidate has the stomach for that. for more information on this subject.

Posted by: Madia1 | October 30, 2008 9:55 AM

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