Meg Whitman says she became one of the world's wealthiest CEOs by always asking, "What is the right thing to do?"A crooked RINO buying the governor's mansion. Golly Gee Wilikers! Just what California needs!
In her recently released autobiography, the front-runner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination disavows Wall Street "self-dealing and fraud" and rejects as myth the idea that successful executives must "step on people, stretch the truth . . . and make heartless decisions based only on the bottom line."
Several of Whitman's actions while in corporate office and as an investor, however, raise questions about whether her conduct has squared with the image she has created in the book, on the stump and through tens of millions of dollars' worth of campaign commercials. Her ethical compass was tested repeatedly as she went from young Harvard MBA to chief executive of the online auction giant EBay, and some shareholders, regulators and business partners found it wanting.
A lucrative deal that Whitman cut for herself with investment banking giant Goldman Sachs was called "corrupt" by the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee. The partnership she forged between EBay and online rival Craigslist landed in court and is still there; Craigslist has accused EBay of stealing trade secrets and fraudulent advertising. At another company, her dismissal of a subordinate executive resulted in an age-discrimination lawsuit and a secret court settlement.
As an investor, she put millions of dollars into private equity firms with a reputation for callous business practices. Subsidiaries of one of the "distressed asset" firms in which she identifies herself as a limited partner foreclosed on dozens of victims of Hurricane Katrina.
"It's nice to say if you just behave ethically, you will make profits," said Meir Statman, a professor of finance at Santa Clara University who focuses on ethics. "If that were true, life would be really easy. But . . . there are tradeoffs. And if you are a politician, you have to account for them."
Whitman declined to be interviewed, referring questions to her campaign staff.
The race is tightening, so maybe Wily Whitman's ethical lapses will upend her at the finish line: