From Mr. Potato Head to Auction Central

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When Meg Whitman took the reins at eBay last March she shifted gears from marketing blue-chip consumer brands to representing a virtual garage sale auction. Yet Ms. Whitman, 42, couldn't see more affinities between the two worlds.

Running eBay requires a "real consumer focus," she says. "It was truly the users who built this company."

Ms. Whitman says her success hinges on her ability to surround herself with good people including recent hire Brian Swette, senior VP-marketing and formerly exec VP-chief marketing officer at Pepsi-Cola Co. Mr. Swette is overseeing the selection of a new agency.

Prior to joining eBay, she was general manager for Hasbro's Preschool Division responsible for global management of Playskool and Mr. Potato Head. She also was president-CEO of FTD/Florists' Transworld Delivery.

With 1.3 million registered users, eBay is the largest auction Web site and one of a handful of Internet companies which can boast profitability since its inception. It reported $12.2 million in revenues in the third quarter of '98. Everything from Beanie Babies to Sammy Sosa home run baseballs are sold on the site, with eBay taking a small share of the sale.

Its stock went public in September with a 163% one-day gain and has risen as high as $320 before dropping.

Ms. Whitman says she tries not to focus on eBay's fluctuating stock price. More pressing issues are increasing eBay's audience while maintaining and improving the quality of its service and beefing up security measures.

"What I do every day is try to build the business for the long haul," she says. And she admits that's not an easy task, given that "the Internet sector is probably the fastest-growing sector of the economy."

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