HP CEO: Can Meg Whitman Put HP Back Together Again?

Meg Whitman will be named Hewlett-Packard's CEO later today, succeeding Leo Apotheker, reports All Things D. If true, Whitman faces multiple challenges.

The VAR Guy

September 22, 2011

3 Min Read
HP CEO: Can Meg Whitman Put HP Back Together Again?


Meg Whitman will be named Hewlett-Packard‘s CEO later today, succeeding Leo Apotheker, reports All Things D. If true, Whitman faces multiple challenges. Inside HP, Whitman must unite an executive team that has been bruised and battered by media storms. Outside of HP, Whitman must convince investors, customers and channel partners that Hewlett-Packard is a reliable, predictable technology partner. Plus, Whitman must ensure HP’s executive team can execute a long-term strategy without battling media leaks that constantly distract the company.

Whitman, eBay’s former CEO, joined HP’s board in January 2011. HP has offered no comment about today’s CEO-change rumors. As of 1:40 p.m. eastern on Sept. 22, HP’s website still listed Apotheker as CEO. Plus, an HP page listing former CEOs did not include Apotheker at that time.

Imitating IBM — From the 1990s

HP’s challenges under Apotheker are well-documented. A former SAP executive, Apotheker has run HP for roughly 11 months. During that period the company has suffered from profit forecast cuts and strategic changes that raised big questions inside and outside of HP. Multiple sources within HP say the company has struggled to remain focused ever since August 2011, when Apotheker announced a series of stunning moves:

  1. Potential plans to spin off or sell the HP Personal Systems Group, a $40 billion PC empire that must also deal with razor thin profit margins.

  2. Acquiring software provider Autonomy for $10 billion, a price that some investors said was far too expensive.

  3. Killing the WebOS TouchPad tablet business because of slow initial sales.

Even worse, those three strategic moves were leaked to the media ahead of an official HP announcement, which put HP on the defensive and in reaction mode for most of August and September.

Is Meg Whitman the Answer?

Now, All Things D suggests former eBay CEO Meg Whitman will replace Apotheker as HP’s CEO sometime later today. The Wall Street Journal hedges a bit, stating that Whitman could be named interim CEO.

If Whitman gains the CEO crown, she inherits a divided empire. She’ll need to rapidly assess the state of HP’s:

  • PC business: Will HP proceed with a potential spin-off of that division? Or does Whitman’s apparent arrival suggest HP will regroup and hold onto PCs?

  • Software business: Let’s be honest: HP has never been a software powerhouse. It took IBM roughly a decade of acquisitions and R&D to become a true software giant that could counter Oracle on some fronts. Does HP really want to spend a decade on the software initiative?

  • Cloud strategy: Apotheker’s cloud strategy was all over the map. During the HP Americas Partner Conference in early 2011, Apotheker suggested that HP could build a multi-part cloud strategy that competed against Apple iTunes, Amazon Web Services and other cloud services. But Apotheker gave no details on when or how HP would achieve such grand plans.

  • Mobile strategy: Originally, Apotheker suggested that WebOS would be the secret sauce that allowed HP to master fast-growth markets like tablets and smartphones. But Apotheker essentially killed the WebOS hardware business in August 2011, and now the WebOS software business seems to be dieing on the vine.

  • Services strategy: HP’s 2008 buyout of EDS hasn’t been a big success or a big failure. Here, Whitman has the opportunity to make a big impact if she’s named CEO.

  • Communications strategy: How come HP news constantly spreads across the web before it’s officially confirmed within the halls of HP? Whitman will need to change a culture that involves big media leaks and constant second-guessing of executive leadership.

Meanwhile, a separate question remains: If Meg Whitman is named CEO, is she truly the right person to be leading HP at this point in the company’s history. Mainstream media sites note that Whitman is best-known for her consumer experience. And HP essentially alienated the consumer market during the WebOS TouchPad tablet debacle in August 2011.

Can Whitman juggle a consumer, enterprise and partner strategy? And what are her potential first priories if she step into the CEO slot? If AllThingsD is correct, we’ll start to hear some answers from HP and Whitman tonight.

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