Meg Whitman: Lessons in Situational Leadership [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

February 8, 2017
Stanford eCorner
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Meg Whitman: Lessons in Situational Leadership [Entire Talk]

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This video interview features Meg Whitman, the President and CEO of HP Enterprise, discussing her experiences with leadership and turning around a struggling company. She shares insights on her time at HP, eBay, and running for governor, as well as her thoughts on American competitiveness, diversity in the workplace, and the relationship between Silicon Valley and Washington.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Meg Whitman end up becoming the CEO of HP?

Meg Whitman initially joined the board of HP in 2011 and unexpectedly became the CEO six months later. She arrived at a difficult time for the company, as it had experienced several CEO changes and faced a decline in confidence among customers, partners, and employees. Whitman set out to create a plan to restore the company's health, focusing on its core values, such as innovation, customer focus, and corporate social responsibility.

Q: How does HP's historical role in Silicon Valley influence its strategy?

HP's historical role in Silicon Valley plays a significant role in shaping its strategy. Whitman believes that HP is important to the global community, given its impact on the tech industry and its position as one of the largest private employers in various countries. She saw the opportunity to restore HP's reputation and contribute to the success of Silicon Valley, California, and the United States.

Q: What are the differences and similarities between eBay and HP in terms of challenges and leadership styles?

eBay and HP presented different challenges and required different leadership styles. At eBay, Whitman faced the challenge of managing rapid growth while maintaining the entrepreneurial spirit of the company. She focused on understanding the key drivers of growth and adapting the company's structure at the right pace. HP, on the other hand, needed a turnaround, involving cost reduction, innovation rekindling, and cultural change. Whitman had to establish a strong leadership presence in a company that had encountered struggles and disarray. The situational leadership approach is crucial in adapting to different contexts and priorities.

Q: How did Meg Whitman's leadership style differ in eBay and HP?

Meg Whitman adjusted her leadership style according to the situation she faced. At eBay, she integrated with the rapidly growing company by enfranchising the founder, Pierre Omidyar, and emphasizing collaboration. In contrast, at HP, with its disordered management team, Whitman adopted a more assertive leadership style. She provided clarity on the rules and expectations and gained support by aligning the organization around a common purpose. However, she always maintained her core values of treating others with respect and doing the right thing for the company.

Q: What motivated Meg Whitman to run for governor and what were her reflections on the experience?

Meg Whitman decided to run for governor of California in 2010 because she felt grateful for the opportunities California and Silicon Valley had provided her throughout her career. She recognized the challenges the state faced, including budget deficits, education issues, and infrastructure problems. Whitman believed she could potentially make a difference, but running for office proved to be a tough and personal experience. Despite the valuable lessons learned from the campaign, she emphasized that business and politics are fundamentally different and that running a government like a business is not a valid approach.

Q: What role does Silicon Valley have in shaping policy and its relationship with Washington and the rest of the world?

Silicon Valley has an important role in influencing policy and defining its relationship with Washington and the global community. Whitman believes that the tech community and Silicon Valley should make their views known when they disagree with policies that go against their values or harm their businesses or community. Recent events, such as the immigration ban, have shown that tech CEOs actively voice their concerns. However, Whitman acknowledges the current uncertainties in the political landscape and advises watching how the situation unfolds before determining the best approach.

Q: How does globalization, outsourcing, and foreign trade impact American competitiveness?

Meg Whitman argues that economic globalization is beneficial for the United States. Although it may displace certain jobs, she believes that automation, rather than global trade, is primarily responsible for job losses in American manufacturing. Whitman stresses the importance of retaining a competitive edge by doubling down on education, maintaining strong research and development efforts, and supporting institutions such as the National Institute of Health and DARPA. She also acknowledges the need to retrain and support those negatively affected by globalization.

Q: Is there a gender diversity problem in Silicon Valley, and if so, how can it be addressed?

Meg Whitman recognizes the gender diversity problem in Silicon Valley and believes it is essential to have a more accurate representation of diverse backgrounds throughout the pipeline, starting from K-12 education. She mentions how many young girls drop out of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields in middle school, leading to a lack of diversity in STEM programs and industries. Encouragement, exposure to opportunities, and managing the hiring process can help combat the underrepresentation of women and other marginalized groups in tech companies.

Q: How does Meg Whitman engineer company culture at HP, and what challenges does she face?

Changing company culture is a difficult task, but Meg Whitman focuses on a few key areas and approaches to engineer the culture at HP. She emphasizes repetition, constant communication of key messages, and setting clear priorities. Whitman advocates for a three-bucket approach, wherein employees can remember and focus on three key initiatives at a time. In terms of challenges, Whitman shares an example of how cultural change required managing the message across different locations, as not all employees initially received the new culture message accurately.

Q: What advice does Meg Whitman have for individuals aspiring to be in leadership roles?

Meg Whitman advises individuals aspiring to be in leadership roles to join the best companies they can get into and consistently perform at their best. She also recommends starting with entry-level positions and working up to higher positions of leadership. Whitman highlights the importance of repetition in changing company culture and encourages setting clear priorities, as well as managing diversity and ensuring a diverse candidate pool for hiring. Finally, she suggests focusing on core values, treating people with respect, and doing the right thing for the company.


Meg Whitman's discussion touches on various aspects of her experiences as a CEO and a leader. She highlights the importance of understanding and adapting to different contexts, focusing on key values, repeating key messages to change company culture, and managing diversity when hiring. Whitman also emphasizes the significance of economic globalization, the need for American competitiveness, and the role of Silicon Valley in shaping policy and the global tech industry. Lastly, she shares insights on the challenges faced by women and marginalized groups in the workplace and encourages young professionals to aim for leadership roles in top companies.

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