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Nov 25 2008

Should Xing count itself lucky, or eBay?

Published by at 2:25 pm under Opinion,Top Stories

The German newspapers had lots of good things to say today about the person nominated to take over from Lars Hinrichs, founder and CEO of business network Xing.com, on 15 January next year.

But, I’m not so sure.

As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out. I really hope I’m wrong.

Stefan Gross-Selbeck is the anointed crown-prince. And until now, for the last four years, he had been the CEO of eBay’s German subsidiary. A very big and important subsidiary for eBay Inc. Germany is, after all, the second biggest country market of eBay after the US market.

Gross-Selbeck was headman over about 1,200 employees at the flashy HQ of eBay in Berlin. At Xing.com he’ll be managing far fewer. So, from that perspective, Xing should be a walk in the park for him.

But, commentators seem to forget one thing: eBay Germany hasn’t been a happy place in the last 24 months, or so. Not from a strategy point of view. Not from a senior management point of view and (I suspect) also not from a financial point of view.

One cannot say for sure, because eBay Inc doesn’t break down financial results for different countries. But, changes made to the business model in September 2007 must have added a hump of cost. And a number of indicators (page views, number of auctions running, registered users etc) have been on a sideways slide for a while now. 

As for strategy: It’s been a zig-zag affair in the last 24 months. First changing tack to target the “small seller” (in September 2007) and then changing tack completely in September 2008 (when the focus went to the big sellers and B-to-C). OK, one doesn’t know to what extent strategy could be determined in Berlin. Maybe, Gross-Selbeck simply had to implement what he got fed from eBay in the US. 

Point remains: Strategy has been a bit of a hit-and-miss affair at eBay Germany in the last years. 

Then there’s the issue of top management. I haven’t seen so many changes and shift-arounds at the top level of a big company, as I’ve seen at eBay Germany in the past 18 months. (Even for an internet company.)

Now he’s here, then he’s there. Now you see him, then you don’t. 

I sometimes wondered whether the recent “scaling down of the Berlin HQ” wasn’t (also) about getting rid of Gross-Selbeck. 

As I said, I hope to be surprised. Also, because Xing is my favourite website and a wonderful internet success story to date. It’s going like a Boeing at the moment and has done so ever since it started in 2003. 

No wonder Hinrichs was voted “Germany’s most important internet entrepreneur” by Deutsche-startups.de in August this year.

Let’s hope Gross-Selbeck’s move makes both Xing and eBay (even) better places.

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