From the Department of Oh No, She Didn't: Whitman Defends eBay's Skype Debacle
If spinning is an intense political skill, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman is doing her very best at trying to create a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
As Om Malik reports on GigaOm, Whitman–who is trying to nab the Republican gubernatorial nomination in California–told a radio interviewer recently that “actually I think Skype will prove to be a good acquisition for eBay.”
Well, good if you mean the $2.6 billion purchase of the Internet telephony company that never worked as Whitman had effusively promised in 2005.
She noted then: “By combining the two leading e-commerce franchises, eBay and PayPal, with the leader in Internet voice communications, we will create an extraordinarily powerful environment for business on the Net.”
That fabulous-sounding synergy did not happen, of course, eventually causing new eBay (EBAY) management to sell a huge chunk of Skype to an investor group.
Best of all, that sale included an ugly and expensive legal fight over software technology licensing issues with its co-founders, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, given that Whitman neglected in the competitive bidding to secure them properly.
That resulted in Zennström and Friis forcing eBay to include them just last week in the deal for a big chunk of Skype in exchange for those rights.
As the sick political joke goes: Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
Nonetheless, Whitman has not let the facts get in the way of a good story!
She kind of had to, I guess, responding to an allegation by one of her rivals in the race, tech entrepreneur Steve Poizner, who has tried to chip away at her blue-chip business reputation by attacking the Skype deal.
Whitman was right to defend a lot of other great acquisitions she made as leader at eBay, such as PayPal; and she can be, as she said in the interview, “proud of my tenure at eBay.”
She should be, given that she was key to building a huge and profitable company that is a clear Silicon Valley Internet icon. While eBay did start to creak near the end of her decade-long stint there, many of Whitman’s accomplishments are nonetheless impressive.
But not all of them and definitely not the Skype buy, so she might want to stop making laughable declarations like this one in the interview:
“You probably read that the company just sold about two-thirds of the interest in Skype to an investor group, kept a portion, and got almost all the money back, and I think Skype will be very effective.”
Well, maybe so, but only because new management had to do clean-up and pay-up for her error, and new owners in charge of Skype could possibly better take advantage of what most consider a terrific property.
So, in the end, Whitman might be right.
And it might not even matter. In a recent poll, Whitman has pulled far ahead of ex-Congressman Tom Campbell, with 34 percent support from Republican primary voters compared to 13 percent for Campbell. Poizner clocks in third at six percent.