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If you like Pierre Omidyar's story, you might also like:
Timothy Berners-Lee,
Jeffrey Bezos,
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Michael Dell,
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Bill Gates,
John Hennessy,
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Pierre Omidyar
Pierre Omidyar
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Pierre Omidyar Interview (page: 7 / 8)

Founder and Chairman, eBay

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  Pierre Omidyar

One of your former colleagues at Microsoft said that it surprised him that you made this fortune. Why would he say something like that?

Pierre Omidyar: It's funny. I laugh because after the article came out he sent me an e-mail and he said, "I'm really sorry. That's not what I said. It wasn't supposed to come out that way," and he felt really bad about it. I didn't actually think it was that big a deal. I guess he thought it was a bit insulting or something.

Can nice guys make it in the business world?

Pierre Omidyar: That's a very kind way of phrasing that question, and I appreciate that. I think nice guys can make it. Especially in my business, eBay, which is all based on people doing business with one another. What I tell people all the time about eBay is that it's not like a retail experience.

If you think about a retail environment, where people are buying things in a retail environment, the retailer has a whole bunch of control. They choose the products. They design the store or the catalogue. They train the salespeople. They control the experience. And if there's a problem with a salesperson, they retrain and so on and so forth. At eBay, our customer's experience is based on how one customer interacts with another customer, okay, and you can't control customer behavior. So the only thing you can do is have a certain set of values that you encourage people to adopt, and the only way your customers are going to adopt those values is if they see that you're living those values as well. So when I say that I believe people are basically good, it's because I believe people are basically good. I mean, it's not something that I came up with for eBay. And if I say that you should treat people with the benefit of the doubt, it's because I believe in that as a way of life. And we have to do it internally at eBay at the company as well, because if we don't, then eventually that seeps through, and customers will see that and that will harm our business, because we can't control customer behavior. So our business is based on that.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

Pierre Omidyar Interview Photo
That's a long-winded way of saying that "nice guys," a responsible company that has its heart in the right place -- that's run by real human beings -- it has to be successful, because if we weren't that way, eBay would not be successful, eBay wouldn't exist. It would not be possible.

Do you have some idea of what you'd like to do next? Where do you go from here?

Pierre Omidyar: The big opportunity that I see now is shepherding this wealth that has been created into our philanthropic goals. Those goals have to do with rekindling a sense of the community, reminding people that it's important to be part of your community and there's a benefit that comes with being part of your community. That's something that in America we have lost a little bit, but the value is still there. The core values of community are still there in America, and they just need to be rekindled a little bit.

What are the responsibilities that go along with the kind of success you've had and the kind of wealth you've been able to accumulate?

Pierre Omidyar: I look at it as a deep and heavy responsibility, in fact, to make sure that that wealth goes to good use, because it's very simple. An enormous amount of wealth has been created in this business, even in my business, and it is unmeasurable. My personal wealth is far beyond what any normal human being will ever need in their lifetime for themselves, for their family, for their descendants for generations. You know, a small, small piece of what I have is enough for that. And so the rest of it, I don't want to see it go to waste. So I have a responsibility to make sure it's put to good use. And you know, I feel I'm benefiting from the market success of a great business that has been built by regular, ordinary people who are logging on every day and doing business with one another. And you know, that's something that I have to give back. I have to do it. I have to make sure that that wealth is put to good use.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

It's a learning process for my wife and I as we think about that. We have 50 years ahead of us hopefully, at least as philanthropists, so we've got a long term horizon.

All of the money and the jobs and the opportunities that have been created by this revolution, what are some of the dangers? What are some of the pitfalls that have gone along with this revolution?

Pierre Omidyar Interview Photo
Pierre Omidyar: There are a number of issues. Definitely the Internet is changing everything, and has changed the world in such a short period of time, and will continue to change things in very positive ways that we have yet to anticipate. At the same time, if you look at it in just this last few years of time, the market has gotten away from itself a little bit. A lot of businesses were created that should never have been created, that should never have been funded, that should never have been brought to the public markets, and it created an impression that it was really easy to make a lot of money with a stupid idea.

So a lot more people said, "Gee, great. It's working for that guy so I should come in and do the same thing." Just a few years ago, MBA graduates were going into consulting jobs and the like, now they're all starting their own companies. Some of that is a good thing. I want people to try it. I want people to be entrepreneurs, but I want them to do it for the right reasons, because they think they can change the world, because they think they have got something of value to give to the world. Not because they think they can make a lot of money. That is the wrong way to do anything. There has been a bit of a negative effect on Silicon Valley, in particular. We left Silicon Valley. We don't live there anymore partly for that reason.

It has created a bit of a negative effect with consumers as well, in that it has created unrealistic expectations in some cases. The expectation that a valuable service should be provided free of charge, and in some cases that a valuable service should be provided only if the service provider pays you as a customer, so it's worse than free. So it's some crazy things like that. It's going to take some time to unwind and recover from that.

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This page last revised on Oct 20, 2010 00:15 EDT
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