The most common reaction upon hearing that Mark Hurd has been named HPs new CEO is a shoulder shrug followed by "Who?"
In selecting Hurd, HPs board has gone for substance over flash, suit and tie over hip, and someone more at home talking about databases and enterprise infrastructure than about the grand convergence of all things digital.
A short seven weeks after the abrupt ouster of Carly Fiorina, HPs board decided that a 25-year veteran of a company that began in 1884 building mechanical cash registers is the right person to oversee the sprawling, $80 billion Palo Alto, Calif., technology giant.
In making the move from NCR to HP, Hurd is moving up from a company with a strong track record during his CEO tenure but one that is, at $5.9 billion in 2004 revenues, smaller than any of the divisions of the company he will now be heading.
Initially at least, Hurd, 48, will have to rely mightily on HP executives overlooked in the selection process who run operations larger than that run by their new boss. HPs highly profitable Imaging and Printing Group under Vyomesh Joshi was already a $24 billion business even before the recent fold-in of the companys PC business.
The HP boards decision to go with a conservative choice fits well with the current technology climate. As the U.S. Supreme Court weighs issues around file sharing, and consumer electronics companies fall over themselves to cut game and MP3 player prices, investors have been looking toward conservative technology vendors with strength in customer technology infrastructure integration.
IBMs acquisition of Ascential, Oracles purchase of Retek (outbidding SAP in the process) and the recent $11.3 billion leveraged buyout of SunGard are only the most recent examples of technology vendors being highly valued for their skills in the profitable, if somewhat boring, business of tying internal systems together.
NCR—in particular, its Teradata division—is deeply involved in those customer integration projects. HP has never quite been able to articulate its Adaptive Enterprise concept, while NCR brings a plain-spoken, Midwestern touch to this acronym-laden industry.
You want to become an adaptive company, go to HP. You want to make your cash registers talk to your inventory, go to NCR. You want to talk about micro-payments, go to HP. You want to stick an ATM over by the magazine rack, go to NCR.
Hurd has a big task ahead of him. Customers dislike uncertainty, and competitors love uncertainty in their competition. Dell, IBM Global Services and EMC are ready to capitalize on any missteps at HP.
It will be up to Hurd to move fast without making any mistakes in an industry that is changing under his feet.
Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.