Plum Dozen – Inspiring Business – eBay

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What do the words...people are basically good mean to you?

That was the final question asked to me when I interviewed at eBay about 15 years ago.  Back then eBay was nearing its pinnacle as the worlds online marketplace, a website where anyone could list products for sale and people from around the world could purchase those items.  

Since anyone could sign up to list items, the site relied on the trust of the community and a feedback system based on whether or not the seller and buyer were reputable.  

I told the interviewer people are basically good means innocent until proven guilty.  

She nodded and said that was a very good answer, since the feedback system is designed to assume everyone in the eBay community has good intentions but there are obviously exceptions to the rule.  

I loved working for eBay.  

I can honestly say that was still the best job I've ever had, not because of the work I was doing, but because of the sense of pride and culture emphasized upon all of us.  I can still remember the values eBay had all of us live by because those core values were plastered all over the offices, in the lunchrooms, on our security swipe cards and our desks.  

People are basically good was one of the values.  The other value I remember is open and honest communication, I remember that one fondly because I implemented it when I directly emailed the CEO, Meg Whitman, after an earnings call with a specific call to action.

More on that later...

It's been a long time since I worked for eBay but there are still times when I talk to people and I start sentences with 'At eBay, they always...'  or 'The good thing about eBay was...'  

Everything about eBay was awesome, and it started as soon as you drove onto the property.  There was a huge eBay logo in the outside landscape and another on the wall when you entered into the building...the decor was colorful, fresh and bright and even though we worked in cubicles, it didn't feel like we were forever trapped in cubicle world.  

The surrounding decor of an office can have an influence on the psyche of an employee...eBay made sure things felt open and happy.  It also helped that every Wednesday was bagel Wednesday, when a caterer would push a cart up and down the aisles and we could pick our favorite bagel snack. And the soda machines in the lunchrooms were forever free, too.  Push a button and out came your favorite drink. Sweet!

Wow.  Even now I sit back and think about how lucky we all were.  

Another one of the impressive things about eBay was the way we were trained, especially when we were all new hires.  Obviously eBay had plenty of resources, so they were able to hire professional trainers, people with higher educations who were actually trained to train people. It made a big difference to how we retained information and performed our jobs because they always implemented the 'tell em, tell em, tell em' methods.  

It consisted of..'tell them what you're gonna tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.'  

The next time you find yourself in a training situation, try to notice if the trainer uses the tell em, tell em, tell em method or if he/she just dives right into the content and loses your attention right off the bat.  Tell em, tell em, tell em works!

I've never been more engaged in a job than when I worked for eBay.  And it was about more than the pay, stock options, free food and corporate gym we were all given, it was about the happiness we were creating for people around the world who were suddenly making a living selling items in their eBay stores.  Customers sent gifts, letters and thank-you's to the offices all the time, it felt awesome and rewarding because we were truly making a difference for so many people and for the internet in general.  

So back to the emailing the CEO story...

One day my engagement and enthusiasm for the company got the better of me after our quarterly call to Wall Street showed eBay hadn't met its profit goals for the first time ever.  Competitors were sneaking up on us and the media was attacking us for our failures...if you can consider over $1 billion in sales a failure.  

A few days had passed since the earnings call and the morale in our office was at a very noticeably all-time low.  I was hoping there would be a staff meeting or an email or some sort of reassurances from upper management that things were still awesome.  Those never came.  

So I remembered our value of open and honest communication and decided to email the CEO...

'Hi Meg, the morale in our office is really low after that earnings call.  Can someone please rally the troops!?!'

I messaged my supervisor and told him I emailed Meg.  He laughed and thought I was joking.  I told him I wasn't.  Oh $%#@ was his response. 

A couple hours later I got a response from Meg, it was CC'd to one of our Vice-President's with the message..'Please take care of this.'

Later that day I found myself in a conference room with my supervisor, the VP and her assistant where I knew I would be in trouble for bypassing the chain of command and going directly to the top, especially during a time when Meg was probably focused on appeasing the board of directors and investors after the earnings call.  I could sense the tension in the room so I decided to get ahead of the message they would be sending me by saying...

'Before we get started, I'd just like to apologize for emailing Meg.  I've worked for eBay for about a year and I take great ownership in this company and I want to see it succeed.  I understand open and honest communication is valued here, but I definitely should have voiced my concerns to my supervisor instead of Meg.  I'm sorry.'  

They all thanked me for contributing to the company and for living our values, and agreed I should speak to my supervisor next time.  They could definitely sense my engagement and pride.  


Nowadays, I compare every job I've ever had to my time at eBay.  Nothing comes close.  When you've worked for such a great company, its hard to go to work for an organization/government agency/business that doesn't have values or does have values but doesn't live by them or its mission statement.  

You know when you're in a job interview and the interviewer asks you at the end if you have any questions?  Try asking if he/she can tell you the values or mission statement of the company you're applying to work for.  

If they can't answer that question, it's probably best to stay away and find something better because the values of a company matter.  And so does the culture.  

eBay was awesome at both.  


Husband | Daddy | Writer | DIY Wannabe