Will eBay be a stepping stone to the California governorship?

SACRAMENTO _ In just the last month, Meg Whitman has been called both one of the top 10 CEOs in the world and a "monster" who plays dirty when she doesn't get her way.

Those who've studied her 10-year tenure leading the online auction firm eBay call her a disciplined chief executive who quickly capitalized on the company's strengths. Her critics say she made major missteps at eBay, leaving behind her a trail of litigation.

Now Whitman is the Republican front-runner for California governor, vying to turn corporate glamour into votes. She's campaigning to be "the CEO of this state," and making her eBay years the centerpiece of her pitch.

On the whole, experts give Whitman high marks at eBay, saying she turned a great idea by company founder Pierre Omidyar into a global phenomenon that at times scored profit margins approaching 90 percent.

Last month, the Harvard Business Review named Whitman the eighth best-performing CEO in the world hired between 1995 and 2007.

"She was really responsible for much of eBay's success," said Peter Krasilovsky, an analyst who follows eBay at the firm BIA/Kelsey. "eBay was well-run and moved into a lot of interesting areas."

Former eBay Chief Financial Officer Rajiv Dutta said Whitman distinguished herself with her close attention to detail and her inspiring commitment to the company's growth. Whitman also quickly grasped the company's recipe for success, including the loyalty of its buyers and sellers, Dutta said.

"Of all people I've had the opportunity to work for and work around or observe in business and management, Meg is, sort of, head and shoulders above everyone," said Dutta, who joined the company five months after Whitman. "She has the ability to see the big picture as well as the ability to dive into the details."

Most of Whitman's colleagues at eBay, however, have stayed mum about her tenure, and the company declined to speak to The Sacramento Bee. Whitman's campaign also refused a request to interview her. To date, her campaign has tightly controlled media access to the candidate.

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