For Meg Whitman, 61 Is The New 21

Why did the most experienced woman in Silicon Valley, Meg Whitman, 61, leave venerable Hewlett Packard to join a mobile content startup venture aptly named NewTV?

Because Jeffrey Katzenberg, former co-founder of Dreamworks SKG, asked her to.

For both Whitman and Katzenberg, this is a sign you can go home again.

Katzenberg became aware of Whitman’s interest in leaving HPE when he heard about her interest in the Uber CEO role. In bringing together his pedigree and Whitman’s operational skills, Katzenberg said, “Meg is one of the most accomplished and sought-after executives of our time. She has built and scaled some of the most important global companies today. To say I am thrilled that Meg will be at the helm would be an understatement.”

NewTV’s plan is still under wraps, and may very well be a work in progress, not unusual for Hollywood or hi-tech startups. For now, the plan is to change how audiences interact with short-form content optimized for mobile devices. Think of it as premium YouTube channel for folks who spend five hours a day on their mobile devices and soon will be willing to pay subscriber fees.

“The startup brings together the Katzenberg pedigree with Whitman’s operational skills.”

According to Hollywood insider Variety, the venture will bring a drama like “Grey’s Anatomy shrunk to 10-minute episodes made for mobile consumption. Or a five-minute talk show, or a two-minute newscast — all with high-profile talent attached.”

For Whitman, after a career where she ran some of the biggest and most successful technology companies in history, this was a chance to get back to earlier stage innovation: “In some ways, this is a return to my start-up roots. I took eBay from $4 million and 30 employees to $8 billion in revenues and 18,000 employees.”

Her relationship with Katzenberg goes back a long way, too. When he was the number two at Disney to Michael Ovitz, Whitman was a star strategic planner, and their friendship blossomed afterward. The startup brings together the Katzenberg pedigree with Whitman’s operational skills. She remarked about her new role, “I think Jeffrey and I have very complementary strengths.”

The name, NewTV, is not the only tentative thing about the venture. Whitman dismissed requests for detail about the startup, “We’re deep in the process of fundraising right now so I can’t talk about it,” she said. “But we’re going to be recruiting the very best talent, and in a few more months we’ll have to more to say on this.”

Whitman is looking around for a chief creative officer, and this signals her focus will be the same as in her previous role as president and CEO of eBay. Her skill is in marketing, strategy, and operations, and getting out of the way of creative talent.

Katzenberg was itching to bring Hollywood and digital together when he announced the formation of his holding company, WndrCo, in January 2017 with funding from dozen investors of over a half billion seed money. His other digital entertainment investments include TYT Network, a leading video political news channel, plus a minority ownership in digital startup Whistle Sports and news startup Axios.

When he learned Whitman was interested in the Uber CEO role, which she opted not to pursue, Katzenberg didn’t waste a moment and jumped at the opportunity to work with her again.

Whitman also dabbled in politics, with an unsuccessful run for California’s governorship, running against Jerry Brown, as well as hitting the campaign trail for Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain. She distanced herself from President Donald Trump during the 2017 campaign.

Jeff Cunningham is Chief Executive magazine's editor-at-large and a professor of leadership at Arizona State University/Thunderbird School of Global Management, where he has also endowed the Cunningham Global Fellowship for next-generation leaders. He also is the founder of Thunderbird Opinions poll of business trends. He was previously publisher of Forbes Magazine and CEO of Zip2 (founded by Elon Musk). Watch his YouTube interviews at Iconic Voices and connect on Twitter @CunninghamJeff and LinkedIn.