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Staples sells stake in online unit

The office supply giant sells investors a 5 percent stake in its online unit and creates an influential advisory board that includes eBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman.

Office supply giant Staples today sold investors a 5 percent stake in its online unit and formed an influential advisory board that includes eBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman.

Venture capital firms General Atlantic Partners, Highland Capital Partners and Greylock Management bought a combined stake in Staples.com and will be represented on the unit's advisory board, according to a company statement.

On Tuesday, Staples took another step in shoring up its Internet profile by receiving shareholder approval to create a tracking stock for the company's Internet holdings. A tracking stock is a common stock designed to reflect the performance of a subsidiary; however, it is not traded publicly.

Company spokeswoman Shannon Lapierre said that Staples.com hopes to initiate a public offering within a year.

Staples created the advisory board to help guide the online arm. In addition to Meg Whitman, who already was a board member for Staples, Harvard Business School professor Bill Sahlman was also named to the Staples.com board.

"We invited her to join our board last year when we were realizing the great opportunities that were presented by e-commerce," Lapierre said.

The tracking stock will monitor all of Staples' Internet companies, including Staples.com, Quillcorp.com and StaplesLink.com, the company said.

Staples.com focuses on the home-office and small-business customer, while Quillcorp.com services small- to medium-sized businesses and StaplesLink.com targets large businesses.