Biden taps former HP CEO Meg Whitman as US ambassador to Kenya

Joe Biden has nominated former Hewlett-Packard chief Meg Whitman to be US ambassador to Kenya, a high-profile diplomatic posting for the longtime technology industry executive and one-time Republican candidate for governor of California.

The White House announced the move on Wednesday alongside a slate of five other ambassador picks, including the nomination of senior diplomat Alina Romanowski to serve as the top US representative in Iraq.

Whitman’s nomination will need to be confirmed by the US Senate, which is split, 50-50, between Democrats and Republicans, with US vice-president Kamala Harris able to cast the tiebreaking vote.

The nomination marks the latest twist in an unlikely political trajectory for the corporate executive, who ran an unsuccessful bid for governor of California as a Republican in 2010, spending a then record $144m of her personal wealth on her campaign.

Six years later she endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump, after supporting Republican Chris Christie in that cycle’s primary contest. More recently, she announced her support for Biden at last year’s Democratic National Convention and donated $500,000 to the fundraising vehicle Biden Victory Fund.

Democratic and Republican presidents have historically been known to give ambassadorships to top political donors. Earlier this year Biden named Democratic donor and longtime Comcast executive David Cohen to be US ambassador to Canada.

Whitman currently serves on the boards of Procter & Gamble and General Motors. But her most recent business venture, the video streaming service Quibi, ended in failure last year, shutting down only six months after its launch. Whitman had worked to raise billions of dollars to set up the platform with the Walt Disney veteran Jeffrey Katzenberg.

A graduate of Princeton, Whitman earned her MBA from Harvard and worked at several major US companies — including P&G, Disney and Hasbro — before joining eBay in 1998. She is credited with taking the company from start-up to ecommerce giant in her decade-long tenure as chief executive there, later joining the board of HP and becoming chief executive of the Silicon Valley stalwart. She left the company in 2018, following a turbulent six-year turnround effort.

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