Business/Finance: CNBC Exclusive: CNBC’s David Faber Speaks with eBay CEO Devin Wenig (Transcripts)

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CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” and CNBC’s “Squawk Alley” are Live from the 2019 Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, CA. The following are the unofficial transcripts of CNBC Exclusive interviews conducted by CNBC’s David Faber.

DAVID FABER: Welcome back to "Squawk on the Street." I’m David Faber at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference right here in Los Angeles. And now, joining me is somebody from this side of the country, Devin Wenig is the CEO of eBay, a little bit north of here in San Jose.

DEVIN WENIG: Same general neighborhood.

DAVID FABER: Yeah, but you’re dressing like a west coast guy.

DEVIN WENIG: I dressed up for you today.

DAVID FABER: You’re wearing a collared shirt. almost. Kind of. Devin, it’s nice to see you. Thank you.

DEVIN WENIG: Thanks for having me.

DAVID FABER: You know what, there was an interesting interchange you had with a gentleman named Mr. Bezos a couple weeks back when he wrote his annual letter. And I want to get your response to what he said. Because he, for some reason, decided to throw eBay in there in terms of discussing the growth of independent sellers on the Amazon platform. And he said, you know, why did independent sellers do so much better selling on Amazon than they did on eBay? And why were independent sellers able to grow so much faster on Amazon’s own highly organized first sales organization? What do you respond to that when the CEO of obviously one of the most powerful companies in the world calls out eBay and says we’re growing faster than you are for our core constituency? What is your core con constituency?

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DEVIN WENIG: Well, we had a bit of a back and forth. And I don’t think leadership is being in fights on Twitter -- I’m busy trying to run the company. But there are millions of sellers that sell only on eBay. And Amazon is pretty good at what they do. So, the natural question is: what is that? Why is it that millions of sellers make their home on eBay? And I think that’s because this is still the number one or number two e-commerce platform in every market in the world. our pricing and our policies and our velocity is incredible for small sellers. And we built an almost 100-million-dollar marketplace. Amazon is really good at what they do. It’s a $17 trillion commerce market, and there’s plenty of room for eBay and Amazon. And I don’t want to compete with Amazon. I want to get as far away from Amazon as we can get and build a moat around an independent eBay that stands for something different. I want eBay to stand for a human form of commerce, a champion of small business, and for consumers in an Amazon world, why do they buy $100 billion of stuff every year? I think the reason is, there’s no better place that you can find incredible value or incredible selection. It’s rare you won’t get a better price or better choice on eBay. And that’s why our business 22 years into this commerce war with Amazon has never been bigger and still thriving.

DAVID FABER: 95 billion plus in GMV in 2018. Although, your last quarterly results well received by investors. Nonetheless GMV went down. One would anticipate eventually that’s got to go back up.

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DAVID FABER: You are looking at your return on investment, changing some of the parameters around that to increase margins. But when do you believe GMZ is going to resume acceleration?


DEVIN WENIG: I think what we’ve said is that the long-term growth rate at our margin of this business is probably above retail, below e-commerce. We’re running a business in high 20s margin in an industry that has many competitors that are 2%, 3% margin. That matters in commerce. We were really happy with the way the quarter started. It kind of started exactly the way we wanted it to. We said we were going to withdraw low value marketing and we’d focus on profitability. At the same time, we’re growing some new businesses that are really exciting, payments, advertising. They’re both in very high growth modes. So, you saw our revenue grow well above our GMV. We’ve been able to deliver good profitability with that. GMV will come back. It always does. And we’re very confident in the long-term growth of the core marketplace.

DAVID FABER: At the beginning of this year you very briefly had what appeared to be potential battle with an activist and then you settled it. Jesse Cohen from Elliott joined your board. Why did you choose to go that route as opposed to perhaps trying to fight?

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DEVIN WENIG: Because I think there’s no point in fighting if you actually believe in some core principles. And we would have no problem standing up for things that we didn’t believe were sensible, but actually we sat down with Elliott and there was a lot they were saying and we were saying the exact same thing. A lot of what they were saying revolved around our portfolio. And we, if you look back over the last couple years, we’re not a company that hangs on to assets when we don’t need to. And, in fact, we’ve been net sellers over the past few years. We’ve disposed of billions of assets. With regards to the two assets they called out specifically--

DAVID FABER: StubHub and the Classifieds—


DAVID FABER: -- which they said they believe would be better served perhaps as independent entities.

DEVIN WENIG: And we said, ‘Look, we will look at it as we always do and take a clear-eyed look at how best to create value for our shareholders.’ And that’s exactly what we’re doing. We represent all our shareholders. And I think what they care about is we get value for those assets but we don’t compromise the long-term growth and viability of core eBay. And you know, there are a number of ways that can come out. It’s early in the process. But because we thought that was the right thing to do, we were actually largely on the same page as Elliott, and I think from them issuing a letter to us settling was a matter of a couple of weeks.

DAVID FABER: Now, you’re giving more financials around – or more financial specifics around classified, around StubHub. Do you anticipate, though, when your review is completed or are you starting to sense they would be better as separated from the company?

DEVIN WENIG: It’s premature to even guess at that. I think what we care about is that we recognize the value for eBay shareholders, but we don’t compromise either the viability of those platforms or, most important, the growth and competitiveness of core eBay. We’ll see how that comes out.

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DAVID FABER: Well, that was the key, of course, of the letter originally from Elliott as well. Revitalizing, in their words, the core platform. Are you doing that? What can you point to specifically that says yes, in fact, we are?

DEVIN WENIG: I think if you look at just the last couple of years, we’ve added about 10 million new buyers. We’ve added a massive amount of new sellers and inventory. In fact, we had 800 million items for sale. Now we have 1.2 billion. GMV has never been bigger at 95 billion. And there’s no metric that’s not the greatest it’s ever been on our core marketplace. So, we focused on what’s unique about eBay, but modernizing and improving the core customer experience. What matters to me is consumers who shop with us, 180 million of them, get a great experience every day. So, that’s improving customer service, shipping and extending the inventory advantage. And look, if you look at the underlying metrics, we’re really, really happy with where we are. We’ve accomplished a lot. The business is big and it’s growing. And I don’t think it’s ever been as competitive as it is right now.

DAVID FABER: You don’t?

DEVIN WENIG: I think it’s at its strongest now.

DAVID FABER: When it comes to eBay and, of course, I can go back many years when we first did a documentary on it in the small and medium-sized businesses that made up the core constituency of your sellers. You’re relying now more on larger sellers, aren’t you? Does that change the complexion of the platform?

DEVIN WENIG: You know, it’s mixed. The mix has changed. So we have added a lot. eBay still represents this long tale of small and medium-sized entrepreneurs and sellers. And that really is the heart and soul of our company. We are champions of entrepreneurs. They bring a lot of the unique inventory to our platform. A lot of the things that you can only find on eBay, which are millions of items, they come from those small sellers. So, that is never, ever going to be not the core of what we do. It happens to be that as we’ve gotten big, brands have joined the party, big merchants have joined the party. We have a lot of diversity in who sells on the platform.

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DAVID FABER: Don’t you end up looking a lot more like Amazon as a result?

DEVIN WENIG: I don’t think so. I think that what customers want is choice. I don’t want to be a commodity retailer. And we’re not the drones and robots company. I think that we stand for a more human form of commerce. But that doesn’t mean people don’t want to buy Adidas shoes and they don’t want to buy Dyson Vacuums. And they can do it alongside unique inventory on our platform.

DAVID FABER: Without some of those things you just mentioned, can you ever be as efficient as Amazon?

DEVIN WENIG: Well, I don’t know that efficiency is the only thing consumers care about. I would argue, go take a look and see if you don’t find a better price on that Dyson Vacuum or Adidas sneaker on eBay. So, we’re not trying to win a logistics war. That’s not what we’re about. Amazon and others are very efficient. It happens to be that in the United States now an average package is delivered in about two days. That’s not too bad. But we don’t want to compete on one-day shipping, half-day shipping, quarter-day shipping.

DAVID FABER: Although if you put eBay on those boxes, it might be a good marketing opportunity.

DEVIN WENIG: That’s not a bad idea.

DAVID FABER: Finally, we’ve been watching alphabet shares this morning. You’re one of the largest advertisers with them. Any sense in terms of how you’ve been approaching the Google platform or what your sense is in terms of their share and what might have been behind this deceleration in clicks?

DEVIN WENIG: I don’t know what’s behind their deceleration. But I will say, what we find, is there’s no better platform to get a return on advertising than Google. And that’s been the case really for the last 15 years. It’s also the case that there are a lot more alternatives now and there’s a lot of competition. Whether that competition are social channels, other publishers, there are a lot of places to put advertising dollars. If you’re a digital advertiser like we are and measure return religiously, there are probably 15 competing platforms now, and a few years ago there were a couple. I will say Google though in terms of return we find is still the best.

DAVID FABER: You do. Okay. Well, Devin, we appreciate you taking some time.

DEVIN WENIG: Thanks for having me.

DAVID FABER: Devin Wenig is the CEO of eBay. Back to you, Sara.

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