Passion, self-advocacy and hard work — these are some of the traits Meg Whitman, ranked ninth on Forbes’ Most Powerful Women in the World list, says are necessary to succeed as a woman in business.
Whitman spoke at the Stanford Women in Business Executive Leadership Series on Monday. She is the former CEO and president of eBay, ran for California governor and now leads Hewlett Packard Enterprise as its CEO and president. The Q&A was moderated by former SWIB co-president Priyanka Jain.
The quarterly speaker series showcases the journey of a female leader in business, exposing students to various aspects of career opportunities in business.
Under Whitman’s leadership at eBay, the company grew from 30 employees and a $4 million revenue to 1,500 employees and an $8 billion revenue. Whitman chose to mainly focus on the challenges of rapid growth.
“One of the greatest challenges is determining how to instill the right culture into your company,” Whitman said. “It is the only thing that really matters; it guides employees as the company grows.”
This was her first task entering Hewlett Packard in 2011, which she pursued by tearing down the executive parking lot and exchanging the executive offices for company-wide cubicles.
“Unless you go back to the core of what a company goes well, you don’t have a chance of winning the hearts and minds of people,” Whitman said.
The creation of Whitman’s workplace culture also included finding enthusiastic people, even when the task was not particularly glamorous.
“You need to just put your head down and always do the very best that you can do,” she said.
Whitman also discussed the challenges of working in a predominantly male field and explained the importance of women to self-advocate. At Whitman’s first job at Procter and Gamble, the four women in a group of a hundred new assistants were denied company credit cards. She responded in a memo to the CEO and had the rules changed in three days.
“We lose a lot of women in science, technology, engineering and math in middle school. We all have an obligation to make sure the girls get over that hump,” said Whitman.
Whitman concluded with advice for students entering the workforce.
“You have to get joy from what you’re doing,” Whitman said. “Whether it’s the people that you work with, or the sheer intellectual challenge, or that the company you work for is making a difference in the world.”
“The people that you meet on the way up are the same people you meet on the way down — so be a good person,” she said. “They can take everything else away from you, but they cannot take your reputation.”
Contact Mini Ruda at mruda ‘at’ stanford.edu.