Meg Whitman wants a job that no sane person in her position ought to be seeking.
Whitman is the fabulously successful former CEO of eBay, the internet auction site that now employs 9,000 people while allowing more than a million more to make their livings buying low and selling higher on the web.
She's a Princeton/Harvard Business School whiz who dashed through P&G, Disney, FTD, Stride-rite and Hasbro on her way to the wild world of internet start-ups in the late '90s from which she emerged a billionaire and still restless.
Whitman is married to a brain surgeon, and her two boys are grown. After star turns in the leadership first of the Romney and then the McCain campaigns she announced her willingness to wrestle the myriad problems of the Golden State. Though the election isn't until November, 2010, and the GOP primary is still more than a year away, Whitman is running hard.
When Whitman arrived at my studio for an early morning interview last week --the transcript of the first part of which is here, and the second part of which will be posted here after it airs this week-- she was accompanied by a grand total of two aids, a refreshing change from the posses that most pols now travel with. She was pleasant, precise, and poised throughout a 90 minute interview that began with biography but which ended up in the familiar terrain of the social issues after crossing through the familiar though deeply dispiriting reality of the California budget meltdown.
When Whitman discusses the incredible burdens that ordinary California businesses must carry, she speaks from the experience of having grown a business through most of the past dozen years on the west coast. When she talks about getting sued or having to clear any of the Golden State's thousands of regulatory hurdles, she does so from the perspective of having been there and managed that. Lots of people who have run for office in California have claimed to be business leaders --even Arnold persuaded a lot of voters that the movie business was a business just like any other.
Whitman doesn't have to persuade anyone that she is the real deal when it comes to executive experience, and when she speaks about the crucial need to surround yourself with like-minded, tough executives, she is letting the GOP faithful know that she knows their assessment of Arnold --a set of good intentions crippled by weak of opposite minded staffers.
California usually elects the candidate with the best "story," a nod to our love of the movies. Whitman faces a tough challenges from another experienced billionaire, California's current Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, as well as candidacies from the liberal wing of the party in the person of former Congressman Tom Campbell and from the conservative side of the party via Ventura County Supervisor Peter Foy, who might be able to knit together all of the social conservatives against an electorate divided among the better known trio.
Right now, though, Meg Whitman is moving with the assurance of an executive who has a plan and is watching it roll out, phase by phase.