Former eBay CEO Talks Work-Life Balance at Stanford

work-life balance

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business recently published an article about a keynote lecture from retired eBay and Bain CEO John Donahoe ’86 presented.

Donahoe devoted a fair portion of his talk to debunking the myth of the clean and tidy career trajectory our culture would have us believe many high-achieving professionals take.

“There wasn’t one moment during the last 30 years where I was certain I was doing the right thing. There wasn’t one moment when I was in the middle of it that I felt, ‘Great, I’ve got this all figured out.’ I still don’t.”

Donahoe “urged students to invest in themselves outside of their careers, with the goal of developing a great life, not just a great career.” He said professionals ought to consider life a positive-sum rather than a zero-sum equation.

“You don’t have to choose between children and a career, one partner’s job over the other’s, advancement over personal health. Try to get as much out of it as possible, and look for creative solutions along the way.”

He also believes that “being able to travel through life with supportive communities of people is key.” Donahoe attributes his early success at Bain & Co. to the group of fellow young consultants he met with at breakfast once a month to share “successes, failures and frustrations.” This is a tradition he continues today with his wife Eileen. The two have “met once a month with five other couples to spend time together and open up about their lives, their families, and their communities.”

Donahoe discussed how a crippling fear of failure debilitated him early in his career. He relayed some crucial advice his first boss at Bain gave him in the form of a baseball analogy: “Hitting .900 in the Major League is impossible. The best baseball players in history are lucky to hit .350 — they miss two out of three swings. You can’t bat .900 in life.”

Donahoe encouraged the assembled student audience to “get in there and swing.”


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