Public HP vs Private Dell: Advantage Meg or Michael?
Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) CEO Meg Whitman will step back into a bright public spotlight on Wednesday — addressing Wall Street analysts who can greatly influence HP’s share price. Meanwhile, Michael Dell within days or weeks will move his company out of the Wall Street spotlight — perhaps protecting Dell from investors’ prying eyes. So who has the advantage going forward: Meg or Michael?
Hmmm… At first glance the clear advantage belongs to Michael Dell. Once his company becomes privately held — backed by Silver Lake Partners — the technology giant can take a longer-term approach to its business. Michael Dell wants to zero in on data center opportunities. Servers, storage, networking and IT management software. Instead of worrying about quarterly earnings per share, Michael Dell can make sure his company invests for the long haul.
Meanwhile, Meg Whitman must deal with Wall Street’s watchful eye each day — including an analyst meeting on Wednesday. Her long-turn turnaround plan for HP suffered a setback a few months ago, The VAR Guy believes, when Whitman conceded that HP will not return to growth near-term. More recently, Whitman in September 2013 told employees that they should be personally upset by the news that HP is no longer part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Glass Half Full?
In some ways there are signs that HP has bottomed out. The shocking death of HP WebOS and its TouchPad tablet are becoming distant memories. The big Autonomy write-down memory is fading — at least a small bit — into the past. Whitman can’t personally turn around the PC market, but HP has been pushing deeper into emerging segments like Chromebooks.
Perhaps most importantly to partners, Whitman seems very serious about restoring HP’s reputation with enterprise channel partners. Just ask Sue Barsamian, senior VP, worldwide indirect sales. Barsamian shifted into that newly created position to ensure HP mitigates conflicts between its direct sales team and partners. The VAR Guy likes the move, Meg.
At the same time, Whitman has been improving HP’s balance sheet. So what’s the biggest challenge? The simple answer is innovation. Whitman wants HP Labs to jumpstart innovation, but rivals control most of the major IT trends (cloud, big data, mobile, social).
Still, there are plenty of markets where HP doesn’t need to lead. Playing the spoiler — in areas like software-defined networking or OpenStack-based cloud services — could be enough to help HP win back respect.
Meanwhile, Michael Dell has a new set of challenges. Public companies get lots of free press. Privately held companies get far less.
Dell proponents say the company can generate cash to fuel new R&D or to fund acquisitions. But critics say Michael Dell’s company could have its hands tied servicing debt rather than funding innovation.
Dell vs HP: Bottom Line
Ironically, Dell has a stronger channel partner program than HP at the current moment. Dell — not HP — has maintained a strong channel focus over the past five years, gradually improving its partner program each year. Most recently, Dell empowered partners to more effectively sell the company’s growing portfolio of software.
HP over the past five years has a mixed channel partner track record. Some partners simply disappeared after HP debated its commitment to the PC and x86 server market. Other partners felt burned when some HP enterprise sales team members took deals direct (an issue that Whitman has since addressed, she has asserted).
These certainly are ironic times. Dell has a leg up against HP in the channel. But Whitman deserves credit for healing some of the recent channel wounds. And The VAR Guy suspects there’s something brewing in the HP garage. It doesn’t have to be a market-changing product like the iPhone. Instead, it simply needs to say “invented here… at HP.”
The VAR Guy is waiting, Meg and Michael. When your next innovations are ready for the channel, give The VAR Guy a shout. You both know where to find him.