Ebay's Meg Whitman Talks Tech and Policy
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."
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.
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