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eBay Must Wring Out CEOs' Excess: Activist

Yet Whitman's final years at eBay leave her open to criticism. She promoted a drunken-sailor approach to acquisitions, always overpaying and making little effort to stitch them together. A culmination was the $4.1 billion purchase of Skype in 2005 (including all payouts), in which she took an auction and e-commerce site into the phone business.

Potentially more damaging in the long-run for eBay than overpaying was that Whitman didn't get the intellectual property associated with Skype. This has allowed Skype's founders to now come back and sue eBay for trying to unload the property recently at a valuation of $2.75 billion.

Although Whitman hasn't done as well as Omidyar and Skoll, she's been well-compensated for her time as CEO. According to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Whitman was paid $47 million in total compensation between 1998 and 2008. Additionally, she sold eBay stock during that time worth about $732 million. She still owns stock in the company as of the end of last year worth another $500 million at today's valuation, as well as additional stock options that will have renewed value if eBay's stock gets above $31.

I believe Whitman deserves every nickel of compensation and stock sale proceeds she got between her joining the company in 1998 and Jan. 1, 2005. Since then, however, eBay has been in a tailspin with the stock down 59% vs. a Nasdaq decline of 3% over the same period. eBay's new CEO John Donahoe was hand-picked by Whitman because he used to work with her at Bain. He has spent the first two years on the job trying to give the company some sense of focus and direction, which it lacked under his predecessor.

Something happened in Whitman's last four years on the job in which her pay became dramatically disconnected with eBay's stock price and her perks started to go through the roof.

Based on my review of the company's SEC proxy filings, it appears that there were two big clues for investors that suggested, between 2005 and 2008, Whitman's interest had drifted away from increasing the stock price of eBay to increasing her cash compensation and perks. Had anyone seen these clues -- and, interestingly, perhaps Skoll did as he liquidated his entire eBay stake in 2006 -- they might have pulled the ripcord on owning the stock in 2006 or 2007 when it was trading at $35, before the bottom fell out in the stock and it hit its nadir below $10 this past March.
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