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Meg Whitman Worked Late One Day

Another day, another Meg Whitman ad gets released in California.

I've added the text of her latest ad below because I'm hyped up on caffeine and the chirpy xylophone music in the background of the ad makes me want to dredge out my eyes with a ball-peen hammer.

When Meg Whitman arrived at eBay, they had 30 people and an idea. Meg's job was to turn that idea into reality. It took planning, leadership and guts. The eBay Meg created had an ability to weather storms and seize opportunities. When the servers crashed, effectively putting eBay out of business, Meg gathered her team along with the best technology experts from around Silicon Valley and they stayed there until it was fixed, literally sleeping at the office! And when it was fixed, she went against the advice of some and refunded money to everyone affected by the outage. Named one of America's best CEOs by Harvard Business Review, she grew eBay from 30 people to 15,000 and made small business dreams come true. Isn't that what California needs right now? Meg Whitman has a plan to create jobs, hold government accountable and deliver results. Meg Whitman, a plan to build a new California.

So, let me get this straight, Ms. Whitman. The listener/voter is supposed to be impressed that you "stayed there" at work during a major work-related crisis? Wow, way to go with that "job" thing. I mean, no employee in the history of work has ever stayed late at the office to do what needs to get done. How did you do it?

All snark aside, what's troublesome about this ad is that essentially Whitman is telling Californians she should be rewarded -- in this case, with the governorship of their state -- for doing what non-management employees are expected to do every day without complaint ("stayed there...") and for far less pay.

Whitman also comes across as someone who doesn't mind hanging the company she used to lead -- as well as its employees and advisors -- out to dry in order to make herself look better. My jaw dropped at the mention of Whitman going "against the advice of some" by deciding to refund the customer's money and doing what's right for the customer. Who are the "some" the ad speaks of? Inquiring minds want to know. This little tidbit doesn't put eBay in a very good light. I wonder if eBay's PR team is banging its collective head against a server somewhere. Whoever put this ad together for Whitman must not have stayed very late at the office to think it through all the way. Or maybe Whitman didn't see the problem with the finished ad?

But there is a problem. The recession has created a huge image problem for today's management class, especially CEOs of large companies. Business executives ranked low on Americans' list of most admired professions in 2007, trailing members of Congress, lawyers and journalists -- journalists! -- and that was before the U.S. economy was losing 700,000 jobs each month. Instead of worshipping upper management as rock stars, a lot of unemployed and 401(k)-ravaged Americans are still in a mood to chase them with torches and pitchforks two years after the financial meltdown. Simply read the seething message board of any business story to see what I mean. These are the times we live in, unfortunately.

Now there are many hard-working CEOs and entrepreneurs out there who understand the reality on the ground for front-line employees inside their companies, CEOs who are working overtime to dispel the stereotype of the typical CEO as a do-nothing management track type who won't get his or her hands dirty unless it's for PR purposes. I've interviewed many knowledgeable, front-line-visiting CEOs over the years and they're truly impressive, thoughtful people. Then Whitman releases this ad and in one fell swoop reinforces the negative perceptions people have of CEOs as entitled and out of touch with the realities of the average person's work life, especially in this under-staffed recession where employees are doing the work of two or three people on a good day.

If Whitman had talked about how she stayed late at work on a regular basis instead of during this one instance, the ad would have left a different impression. But the listener is left with the idea that staying late at work was the exception rather than the rule for her and that she expects to be rewarded by voters for doing what should be expected of any employee during a crisis. She stayed late one day, people! Don't you understand? She "literally" slept at the office while her IT crew averted disaster. So just give her the damn governorship already!

Well, I hope she at least bought pizza for the IT team -- the good pizza, not Domino's.

Californians will decide in November whether or not to hire Whitman. Until then, they'll get to hear ads like this and to ponder whether or not they can trust Whitman to stay late at the governor's office. The rest of the management class, meanwhile, will still be grappling with how to look in-touch and like an indispensable part of the company instead of like highly-paid MBA types who just don't get it. Ads such as this one don't help them in that quest.

Thanks to Sparky McGruff for the tip.


  1. Truly, Meg Whitman deserves the Nobel Prize in Management.


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