Who should run the eBay Marketplace?

September 25, 2010

ChannelAdvisor ChannelAdvisor By ChannelAdvisor

With the announcement that Lorrie Norrington is leaving eBay (covered here), there has been a lot of speculation in the press, Wall St., and seller community.  This is one of those rare times where everyone in the eBay ecosystem gets a chance to armchair quarterback and since we’re well into football season, I figured I’d throw my hat in the ring.

Why outside?

The first topic that is being widely discussed and speculated is eBay’s statement that they are looking externally for a replacement. That blurb wasn’t in the official eBay press release, but:

  • NY Times: “EBay said that it will conduct an external search for her successor.”
  • Bloomberg: “…and that it’s looking outside the company for a successor.”

So evidently in conversations with reporters eBay was pretty explicit in stating they are looking outside the company for a replacement.

What problem(s) need to be solved?

Before we begin our eBay fantasy league draft, let’s think through this challenge.  The eBay President effectively works for JD and has these pieces that report to it:

  • eBay.com, eBayMotors.com, eBay classifieds (the site previously known as kijijijijijijijiji), stubhub and bunch of global pieces too.
  • customer service
  • Buyer and seller experience (includes tsam, trust and safety, large merchants, partner programs)
  • Marketing

What does the eBay president NOT do?

eBay’s technology team, headed by Mark Carges, reports directly to JD, so that is in a separate silo along with Paypal and of course Skype is gone now.

So really this person is effectively in charge with turning around the eBay marketplace.  eBay is 50% through a 3 year plan to turn the marketplace around and isn’t showing much progress.  This chart really tells the story as simply as possible – it compares the growth rates of eBay, Amazon and e-commerce.

Ebay_v_ecomm_v_amazon

 

As you can see, eBay has been growing slower than e-commerce for over two years now which is bad enough, but when you look at that blue line, you see that Amazon is just mopping up market share.  So this person is going to be like the relief pitcher going into a very tough situation with bases loaded and a 3-0 count.  In other words, they are going to start behind the eight ball.

I’ve long been on the record (I’m thinking of updating my ebay 2.0 mini-novel here soon as it’s been a couple of years since we really dug into this) that eBay needs to focus on:

  • The buyer experience  (ease of use and merchandising) is still, by eBay’s own admission, a 4/10 and it’s not moving fast enough – in fact it continues to lose ground IMO.
  • Trust and safety– eBay has made some strides here, but still a lot of ground to cover to get up to state of the art.
  • Selection – hard to say, my sense is they are losing ground.
  • Value – Also hard to say, but again, it feels like they are losing ground.

With this backdrop, here are my thoughts on who should run eBay…

My top picks to run eBay…

First, I think eBay’s problems are unique to eBay and it would be a huge mistake to think that getting someone from a top 10 retailer can come in and apply some pixie dust to solve things.  For, example, JC Penney is doing really well online, what if they recruited a top manager there?  That person would have a set of core competencies that would be around selection, value and buyer experience, but from a retailer’s perspective.  A retailer controls all their inventory, they have buyers that understand consumer needs and how their selection will meet those buyer’s needs.

That’s 180 degrees from how eBay works, so I think that would be a mistake.  eBay has a lot of product talent so I don’t think they need to look there.

In short, I think eBay needs to look internally vs. externally so that the company doesn’t miss a beat training someone new and risking that they don’t ‘get it’.

Thus, I’ve decided to look internally to see who would be the best fit.  This was an interesting challenge.  eBay has something like 300 VPs and very few SVPs on the operational side of things so it’s a flat organisation that can be hard to tell who the next in line is (at least based on publicly available information from the site and linkedin, etc.).  I also wanted to keep it to a list of ten options so that it’s manageable.

  • Nobody – Yep you heard me, nobody.  When Stephanie Tilenius left, eBay decided to not replace her and instead widened the responsibility of 2-3 existing VPs and were left with a flatter organisation with broader span of control that seems more nimble.  JD could add 2-3 reports (now that Skype is gone, this is do-able) and keep the organisation flat.
  • Dinesh Lathi – Dinesh started at eBay in the finance dept and then left for a startup.  When he came back, he took over the seller experience and then added buyer when Stephanie departed.  Dinesh obviously is a rising star that gets the eBay marketplace and has been behind many great improvements.
  • Chris Tsakalakis – Chris is a super-smart executive at eBay that currently runs Stubhub.  In addition to having a fun last name to pronounce, Chris has an entrepreneurial background and has had success at every stop at eBay.  Stubhub has a great buyer experience, has nailed the trust and safety angle and is growing like a weed.  Chris could bring some of that mojo over to the rest of the biz.
  • Andre Haddad – Following in the steps of Lorrie, Andre is the current CEO of shopping.com and I believe also carries one of the few SVP titles at eBay.   Andre is a triple threat – entrepreneurial, gets product and has already run eBay international.
  • Greg Fant – Greg is the VP of Marketing at eBay and has been with the company since I can remember.  He worked his way up through the ranks of category management and knows every nook and cranny of the eBay business.
  • Rob Chesney – Ok, Rob isn’t at eBay any more, but he’s in the ‘recently departed’ bucket so I’m cheating a little bit having him on the list.  Rob ran eBay Motors through some tough times and to his credit did a great job with the parts and accessories part of that business. P+A is one of the fastest growing categories at eBay and if eBay is really focused on different vertical shopping experiences, Rob is your man.  He’s an EIR at a VC now, so not sure if he’ll come back or not.
  • Miriam Lahage – Miriam is new to eBay, but enters as a GM of fashion which appears to be eBay’s big strategic focus (which I somewhat disagree with, but that’s a topic for another time).  If fashion is the most important focus, why not put Miriam in charge of the whole enchilada?

Who do you want to run eBay?

That’s my list.  Several customers have been  already politicing for Todd Lutwak who is wildly popular with the seller base and some feel that this is a great time to put a top eBay seller in a senior position at eBay.  Also, I didn’t dig deep into the ex-ebayers like Dearing, half of linkedin, a chunk at facebook/goog, etc. Would an Amazon exec take the plunge?

I’m eager to hear everyone’s thoughts on my short list and anyone else you think would be a good choice to steer the good ship eBay?

SeekingAlpha disclosure – I am long Amazon and Google. eBay is a strategic investor in ChannelAdvisor.