Meg Whitman, CEO of streaming service Quibi, speaks at WSJ Tech Live 2019 in Laguna Beach, California on October 22, 2019. PHOTO| AFP

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Meg Whitman, the US envoy nominee to Kenya with Sh550bn fortune

Margaret Whitman could be the next US ambassador to Kenya, after her nomination on Wednesday by President Joe Biden.

If endorsed by Congress, she will replace Kyle McCarter, a son of evangelicals who became known for his controversial tweets criticising government officials for corruption.

McCarter resigned in February after Biden took over power. Eric Kneedler has been serving as chargé d’affaires on an interim basis since then.

Popularly known as Meg Whitman, this superwoman brings to Kenya vast experience, spanning more than 40 years, straddling business, technology, leadership and politics.

But who is Meg Whitman, and what’s her track record?

Worth $5 billion (Sh550 billion), according to estimates by Forbes, Whitman is arguably one of the richest women in the world.

She made her fortune by serving as an executive of top brands through four decades.

Most of this lot, however, was chalked up while serving as CEO at both eBay and HP.

In 2018, Whitman invested in e-sports company Immortals LLC, on whose board she also sits.

Born in 1956 in New York, Whitman studied mathematics and science at Princeton University (1974) and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School (1979).

She has served in senior roles at some of the largest corporations in the world, having been an executive at Walt Disney in the 1980s.

She later worked in similar capacities at consumer goods multinational Procter & Gamble and at American animation company DreamWorks through the 1990s.

For seven years starting in 2011, Whitman was the CEO of information technology multinational Hewlett-Packard (HP), where she was critical in driving its research and development strategy before stepping down from the role in February 2018.

For 10 years between 1998 and 2008, Whitman was the CEO of e-commerce giant eBay, during which period the company’s annual revenues grew from $5.7 million to $8 billion.

Whitman has sat on the boards of multiple top corporations, notably General Motors, Survey Monkey and investment banking multinational Goldman Sachs (2001-2002).

Bankrolling her campaign

She was named the 20th most powerful woman in the world on Forbes’ list of 100 Most Powerful Women in the World in 2014.

Whitman has had an active political life, having been a senior member of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012, in both of which Romney lost to Barack Obama.

She also ran for governor of California as a Republican in 2010, bankrolling her campaign with her own fortune.

During the campaign, she spent a staggering $144 million (Sh15.8 billion) from her fortune. Only Michael Bloomberg ($188 million in the 2020 presidential election) has spent more on a single election in US history.

But even with her almost infinite war chest, Whitman lost the race to Democrat Jerry Brown.

In the 2016 elections, however, Whitman threw her weight behind Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who lost to Donald Trump.

She also supported current President Joe Biden in the 2020 polls.

At the height of her involvement in politics, the New York Times in 2008 sensationally cited Whitman as one of the women most likely to become the first female president of the United States.

When she takes over the role in Nairobi, Whitman will serve in the office that was previously occupied by Johnnie Carson, William Bellamy and Michael Ranneberger. Other former ambassadors were Scott Gration, Robert Godec and, most recently, Kyle McCarter.

Whitman is married to neurosurgeon Griffith Harsh, with whom she has two children.

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