5 There's No Stopping Ebay CEO Whitman's international and big-business plans mean big bucks for the auction site that just can't stop growing.
By Adam Lashinsky

(FORTUNE Magazine) – In autumn 2000, as net stocks were in free fall, Meg Whitman announced to a skeptical Wall Street an audacious goal: eBay would ring up $3 billion in revenues by the end of 2005--a sevenfold expansion in half a decade. She was way off. eBay expects to hit the $3 billion mark in 2004, a full year early. Unfortunately for the handicappers, Whitman says she'll never again provide a five-year plan, the first one having caused too much of a ruckus.

If she won't go out on a limb, we will: In the next two years, watch eBay soar to over $4 billion in annual sales, coming mainly from the fees it collects on the more than $40 billion worth of merchandise--equivalent to what 118-year-old Sears Roebuck does in a year now--that sells over its site. It will also cement its place as the dominant commerce site on the Net. We're not just talking collectibles and cars. eBay is positioning itself to be global and giant: part international swap meet, part clearinghouse for the world's manufacturers and retailers.

To become a global colossus, eBay is pursuing a fairly simple, three-pronged strategy. It's evangelizing the wonders of eBay around the world. It's starting to get non-U.S auctiongoers used to the idea of paying over its PayPal electronic payment system, as well as peddling PayPal to merchants who don't sell on eBay. And it's doing all this as it is beefing up the U.S. site--still 45% of the company's sales--by adding new categories and big partners, like Sears, Sharper Image, and IBM, which all unload excess inventory over eBay.

With eBay a runaway success, Whitman watchers are waiting for her to start branching out by bidding on, say, an online dating or professional connections service--or by challenging Google in the market for paid search ads. Don't count on it. The CEO insists eBay won't stray from its current path. "One of the things people forget about eBay, because we've grown so fast and because we have 6,000 employees, is that eBay is eight years old," she says. "And young companies are very well served by focusing." (Only in technology can a company call itself focused that aims to sell every kind of product in every country of the world.)

Not that Whitman's shy about wielding eBay's power. With a $43 billion market cap, $1.7 billion in cash, and a stock that trades for 60 times Wall Street's 2004 earnings estimates, the company can buy its way out of jams. When faced with a strong niche competitor in a key market, eBay doesn't hesitate to acquire, adding PayPal in 2002 and, more recently, German car site Mobile.de. And, for now at least, eBay's market muscle has scared off other giants. Example: Google. For more than a year it has been testing its Froogle.com product-price-comparison site, but it hasn't launched it widely, in part because it can't afford to anger huge advertiser eBay. Who's doubting eBay now? --Adam Lashinsky