According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Whitman last year exercised options on 7.14 million shares of eBay stock at a strike price of just 7 cents a share. Those shares are now worth more than $1.2 billion, according to yesterday's close price of 171.75.
Whitman joins Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, who is close to the $100 billion mark, as well as the CEOs of newly public e-commerce companies whose stock values have soared on optimism about the sector. The chief executive of Priceline.com, Richard Braddock, received a salary of just $112,000 last year, but his ownership of 10 percent of Priceline.com's outstanding common stock puts his net worth at more than $1 billion. Other recently anointed paper billionaires are Todd Wagner, the CEO of Broadcast.com, which agreed to be acquired by Yahoo earlier this month, and the company's president, Mark Cuban.
Another CEO whose stock holdings make him a regular, although not constant, member of the billionaires' club is Tim Koogle, CEO of Yahoo. Koogle's net worth was around $600 million at the end of 1998, according to the company, but the stock has jumped almost 100 points since then.
Like other Internet executives, most of Whitman's fortune is based on her company's market capitalization in a volatile market, but it's nevertheless a breakthrough for female executives, according to compensation experts.
So few women reach the top position in corporate America that "it's a positive for women that she's the CEO of an Internet company" in the first place, said Diane Doubleday, a principal at William M. Mercer in San Francisco.
The high technology industry counts just a few female CEOs, including Carol Bartz of Autodesk, Kim Polese of Marimba, Ellen Hancock of Exodus Communications, and Katrina Garnett of Crossworlds. But none has reaped financial rewards on the scale of Whitman's eBay holdings.
What is perhaps less surprising is that the Internet has produced the first female executive worth more than $1 billion. Internet-related business "is probably the most open to female executive ascension, so we're poised to see females breaking that ceiling and becoming very wealthy in the process," said Carol Bowie, publications director at Executive Compensation Advisory Services in Springfield, Virginia.
Because the Internet industry is so young, there's no "old-boy network" in place to keep women in the lower executive ranks, Bowie added.