Monday, September 26, 2011

Protecting the Legacy of Bill and Dave

When I was an undergraduate at Stanford, my wife to be and I lived with Dr. Fred Terman, the Stanford Provost who first brought together William Hewlett and David Packard.   In early 1980's I had the opportunity to meet Hewlett and Packard.  Since then, I've had a special affection for the company.

HP has just hired its fifth CEO in six years, Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay.  Carly Fiorina, Mark Hurd and Leo Apotheker are gone, each with a checkered history and a large severance check.

Now the future of the iconic company rests with a new leader who is expected to turn it all around.

Can one person do that?  It seemed to work for Steve Jobs.

But, being a CEO is not very fun.  There's a lot of risk and CEOs can only hope that overly optimistic Board expectations are tempered by twists of fate or alignment of historic market forces at the right time in the right place.   The CEO can take credit and be a hero.

It's been a bad year for tech CEOs.   Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz was fired over the phone.  Rumors are flying about tech CEOs who may be on the way out.

I think of HP as a great printer, server, and storage company which leads the world in PC manufacturing.   Their software has always been less than perfect in my experience, since software development is not a core competency of the company.

HP may be shedding its PC business to focus on higher margin software and services.   At a time when mobile technologies such as smartphones and tablets are at the peak of consumer demand, HP has exited that business.

Every company has its lifecycle - early innovation, hypergrowth, the burden of maintaining an installed base, displacement by new early stage companies, and decline.

In the late 90's Microsoft could not be stopped.   In the late 2000's Google was invincible.   Now Apple is the most valuable company in the US and HP has lost $60 billion of shareholder value in the past year.

I truly hope that HP can be transformed by focusing the $120 billion dollar company on those businesses which are profitable and growing.    Like IBM in the 1990's, it may need to radically change its focus.

It will take more than Meg to do it.  The devoted employees of HP should be able to explain the company's core competencies to Meg and the Board.  Hopefully, they will listen.

There's a 72 year tradition at stake.

Note to Meg - Bill, Dave, and Dr. Terman are counting on you.  May you rise to the occasion.

1 comment:

Zach Tumin said...

John - You might be interested to follow Dennis Howlett's HP reporting on ZDNET... he's got backstories that add lots of dimension to what's on the front page.