Meg Whitman is the CEO of Quibi, a mobile-only media technology platform bringing together the best of Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Headquartered in Los Angeles, Quibi is the first entertainment platform built for easy, on-the-go mobile viewing, allowing today’s leading studios and creative talent to tell original stories in an entirely new way. Prior to Quibi, she served as CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and President and CEO for the Hewlett-Packard Company.
Whitman was President and CEO of eBay Inc. where she oversaw its growth from 30 employees and $4 million in annual revenue to more than 15,000 employees and $8 billion in annual revenue. She has also held executive-level positions at Procter and Gamble Company, Hasbro Inc., The Walt Disney Company, and Bain & Company.
Meg is the national board chair of Teach for America.
At 26, I was working at Bain and Company as a management consultant. I had been an economics major as an undergraduate, and after that I’d gone to Harvard Business School. If I was talking to someone who was coming out of high school now, I would say, "If you have any aptitude at all for quantitative skills, be an engineer." If I had the whole thing to do over again, I would be an engineer. It would've been more difficult, but I think the defining industry of the last 30 or 40 years has been technology. I think it will be the defining industry of the next 30 to 40 years. And even if you're not a working engineer, that discipline, that understanding of thought process and of technology, is super valuable.
Make sure you like who you work with. You don’t need to be best friends with them, but you spend a lot of time at work, probably more time than you do at home. If you find yourself in an organization where you don't enjoy the people, or you don't think they're ethical or honest, or it's not an environment that you find to be uplifting and fun, it might be time to change.
The best advice I have for my 26-year-old self is to find what you like and keep doing it.
One thing I learned quickly about traveling for work as a consultant is not to pack more than you need, and get a set of clothes that's nice looking, flattering, and functional, and move on. I'm 5’10, so I never really wore high heels. I didn’t know at 26 that I’d one day want to get into politics [Ed. note: Whitman ran for governor of California in 2010], but after the campaign I decided I’d never wear heels again! As for a beauty routine, keep it simple; don't overcomplicate. Make it easy so that your morning routine is quick and effective. On top of that, make sure you exercise and sleep. I was a competitive swimmer in high school, and I went back to swimming after the governor's race. I wished I'd gone back to swimming when I was 26.
Keep things simple when it comes to eating, too. My husband and I went grocery shopping and largely cooked for ourselves. It’s simple and fast to eat at home. We didn't eat out the way people eat out today — it wasn't quite as much of a thing.
Pick the right significant other or spouse or partner. My husband and I have been married for 40 years in June, and he's been fantastic. We've just traded off who's on first over the years: Who's going to be home for dinner? Who's picking up the boys from soccer practice? Who's traveling? It's been a complete partnership, and I couldn't have done it otherwise.
My tip for staying connected to your spouse sounds very tactical, but it's worked for us. Every single Sunday night for 40 years, we have “calendared.” At 9 on Sunday night we would say, "Okay, what's happening next week? Who's on first; where are we?" We'd always plan out three to four months. That little forcing function of calendaring actually kept a lot of really crazy things from happening. To calendar...it's a verb now for us.
At 26, my house did not look like Martha Stewart just left. I wasn't a fashion plate, but I did the things that my husband and I collectively thought mattered most, which was each other, the kids, and then trying to do the very best job we could at our occupations. Don’t worry about being the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect hostess, the perfect organizer of charity events — something has to give. But you do miss things — you absolutely miss things — and sometimes you feel like you're drowning a little bit. I wouldn't have changed it, but there are days where you’ll be like, Okay, I'm going to tear my hair out here.
I know a lot of 26-year-olds now will take time off to travel the world. It’s the best time to do it if you don’t have kids yet. You just have to figure out how that works for your career. And if you can’t take a year off, make sure you stay active. We’re big hikers and love to ski. Reading has always been Important to us. It’s a source of joy and relaxation.
Once you have children, you really start to appreciate your parents more. My mother was a Red Cross volunteer during World War II and worked for Planned Parenthood. She and my father instilled philanthropic values in us.
I’m glad my 26-year-old self learned to: Give back to your communities; do your very best work, and try as hard as you can at whatever it is that you're doing, whether it's school work or athletics or whatever.
In 1972, my mother went on a documentary film shoot in China organized by Shirley MacLaine with an all-women crew. When she came back, she said, “Meg, the world has changed so much ...you can do anything you want, so go for it.” It changed her perspective of what was possible for women, and that made a big difference to me.
When I started at Procter and Gamble right out of business school, my entry class had four women out of a hundred. So, we were a novelty and often people didn't quite know what to do with us. It wasn’t overt — sometimes you felt a little bit on the outside. You weren’t in the “in” club. I also felt that way at Bain and Company. We knew, particularly after we had kids, that we wouldn't be able to be doing things on the weekends with some of our male colleagues. But we just said, "You know what? We're going to put our heads down, we're going to do the very best job we know how to do.”
I didn’t know then that I was on the path to being a CEO one day. The best advice I have for my 26-year-old self is to find what you like and keep doing it. Sometimes it’s just that simple.
As told to Lauren Le Vine. This interview has been condensed for length and clarity. Quibi launches April 6 with a free 90-day trial subscription.