Whitman Took CEO Job Because 'HP Matters'

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2011-09-22 Print this article Print

In her first HP press conference, HP's new chief executive says the company will continue to invest in hardware--including PCs--under her leadership.

Hewlett-Packard, which desperately needed a better communicator and executor of business strategy at the top of its organization, introduced its new CEO, Meg Whitman, to an audience of press and analysts on a conference call a mere one hour after announcing her appointment on Sept. 22.

Following a full day of speculation, Whitman replaced former CEO Leo Apotheker, who lasted 11 rocky months in the hottest of seats in the giant IT company, which employs 324,000 people globally.

Whitman, 55, (left) has served on the HP board since January 2011 and made her name in Silicon Valley as  president and CEO of eBay in a 10-year tenure that ended in 2008.

"We are fortunate to have someone of Meg Whitman's caliber and experience step up to lead HP," new Executive Chairman of the Board Ray Lane, a former president of HP competitor Oracle, said in introducing Whitman.

"We are at a critical moment, and we need renewed leadership to successfully implement our strategy and take advantage of the market opportunities ahead. Meg is a technology visionary with a proven track record of execution. She is a strong communicator who is customer-focused with deep leadership capabilities. Furthermore, as a member of HP's board of directors for the past eight months, Meg has a solid understanding of our products and markets."

Track Record of Previous Business Success

Whitman was president and CEO of eBay from 1998 to 2008. During her tenure, the company grew from 30 employees and $4 million in annual revenue to more than 15,000 employees and $8 billion in revenue. She ran for the governorship of California in 2010 on the Republican ticket, ultimately losing to former Gov. Jerry Brown after spending about $150 million of her own money on the campaign.

Whitman, however, has plenty more where that came from, having been listed by Forbes as the fourth-richest woman residing in the state of California with a net worth of about $1.3 billion.

Although she has experienced success in business throughout her career, Whitman has worked exclusively in the consumer sector and has never worked at or run an enterprise-focused company outside of her short time as a member of HP's board. Although HP has extensive global consumer IT businesses involving PCs, printers and other devices, its shift away from the consumer sector to a sharper focus on enterprise hardware, software and services does not align with her background.

Lane, asked about Whitman's lack of direct experience in the enterprise hardware and software world, replied, "As an active member of our board for the past eight months, Meg has a solid understanding of our products and markets.

"It's important to know, that as a CEO [at eBay], Meg was both a large purchaser of IT for the enterprise and ran a company that depends on technology to deliver its service. I was one of the suppliers of that technology to eBay [while at Oracle], and I watched her make decisions real time when the company had tremendous success and also in crisis situations."

Lane, Whitman and CFO Cathy Lesjack all used the word "execute" or "execution" several times during the 40-minute call, a clear indicator as to the crux of HP's recent problems. Lack of key business strategy execution was cited by HP insiders, industry analysts and members of the IT press as clearly lacking during the previous CEO's tenure.

"HP really matters. It matters to Silicon Valley, to California, to the United States and, frankly, to the entire world," Whitman told the conference call audience. "Now I know that HP has disappointed investors in recent quarters, and we're not happy about it. Going forward, HP will have no higher priority than to do everything in our power to meet the challenges of today's macroeconomic environment and frankly improve our operational and financial performance.

"We understand that our performance is under intense scrutiny. And we will take the necessary actions to get HP back on track. That isn't something we can do overnight; it's going to take time. It's going to take a lot of hard work to bring all of the elements together. But I know we have the tools and people to achieve our goals."

Whitman then addressed a question many people had on their minds about whether HP is ultimately going to shutter or spin off its Personal Systems Group, which Apotheker had wanted to do.

"HP will continue to invest in servers, storage, networking, printing, PCs and service offerings," Whitman said. "We expect that by executing HP's strategic actions, we will deliver greater value for our stockholders, broader solutions for our customers and enhanced opportunities for our employees."

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on Salesforce.com and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and DevX.com and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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