Mark Hurd is no Carly Fiorina, and that is exactly what the Hewlett-Packard Co. board of directors was looking for in its new CEO.
Fiorina arrived at HP six years ago as a rising industry star, a flashy and charismatic personality charged with injecting new energy into a company that seemed out of step with the heady times of the Internet bubble.
By contrast, Hurd, the 48-year-old president and CEO of NCR Corp., who was named last week to replace Fiorina, comes to HP with the task of moving the worlds second-largest computer maker in the right direction.
“We wanted someone who could return this great company to sustained leadership and success,” HP Chairman Patricia Dunn told reporters and analysts last week.
Dunn said they found that person in Hurd, a 25-year veteran of NCR, a Dayton, Ohio, company known for making ATMs, point-of-sale devices and data warehousing appliances.
Hurd helped steer NCR through troubled financial times after it was spun off by AT&T Corp. HPs board is hoping he can do the same in Palo Alto, Calif., for a company still trying to mesh after its $19 billion purchase of Compaq Computer Corp. in 2002 and a series of reorganizations under the prior regime.
Hurds appointment surprised many who had expected HP to dip into the ranks of major competitors such as IBM. NCR, with $5.9 billion in revenue last year and 28,500 employees, is a fraction of the size of HP, an $80 billion company with 150,000 workers.
However, like HP, NCR is an old-world tech company with multiple product lines, which at times has struggled to adapt in a fast-changing industry.
After the spinoff from AT&T in 1997, Hurd—as chief operating officer and, later, president and CEO— refocused NCR as a maker of self-service retail appliances while internally cutting costs and re-energizing marketing efforts. He also resisted pressure to spin off NCRs lucrative Teradata data warehousing business.
At HP, Hurd takes over a company with a broad product portfolio that touches everything from large enterprises to the smallest businesses, as well as the consumer market. HPs enterprise hardware business, in particular, has seen its sales fluctuate wildly since the Compaq merger. At the same time, Hurd will have to deal with the drain of executive talent from HP during Fiorinas tenure.
However, he got a boost from Vyomesh Joshi, executive vice president of the Imaging and Personal Systems Group, who was considered the top internal candidate for the job. Joshi, in charge of not only HPs $24.2 billion printing business but also the PC segment, told reporters after Hurds appointment that he planned to stay with HP, giving Hurd a key executive to rely on.
Industry observers call Hurds appointment a bold move but one that could pay off for HP only if Hurd can scale his operational know-how to the industry behemoth.
“Hes demonstrated the ability to turn around troubled business units and companies and to make the tough decisions to cut costs,” said Frank Gillette, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. Gillette said Hurds easygoing manner “will go over well at HP. That was something that was missing in the previous regime.”
Umesh Ramakrishnan, vice chairman of the executive search company Christian & Timbers Inc., said that while Hurd may be a relative unknown, hes been in demand for several years by companies looking for new CEOs. Christian & Timbers, which placed Fiorina with HP six years ago, has approached Hurd several times over the past few years about his interest in other CEO jobs, and each time he turned them down, preferring to stay with NCR.
“Hes definitely been under consideration for a long time,” said Ramakrishnan in Cleveland.
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For his part, Hurd, in conference calls with reporters and analysts, said he will spend the next few months meeting with employees, customers and partners to learn as much as possible about HP before making any major decisions about the companys direction. He also deflected questions about ongoing calls by financial analysts to spin off certain business segments. However, he did say that HPs broad product portfolio was one of its strengths and that he interpreted the idea of breaking up the company as a “surrogate” for improving performance.
“When I look at HP, I see a company that is fundamentally sound,” Hurd said. “But its also clear the company is not performing to its potential. Now, Im not here to pass judgment on the past few years. In fact, Im not concerned at all about the past. The initial focus will be on improving operations, creating demand for our technology and driving profitable growth.”
Customers are hoping that Hurds appointment will bring stability to a company thats had more than its share of drama over the past few years. For David Nardi, senior systems administrator at The Yankee Candle Company Inc., in South Deerfield, Mass., that means stemming the flow of job cuts that has resulted in the wrong people working on the wrong products.
“Right now, you get nonenterprise people working on enterprise systems,” Nardi said. “You might be running [Unix] systems and get Compaq guys working on them who only really know [Intel Corp.-based] ProLiants. … Maybe he can get the company going in the right direction.”
Bob Combs isnt so sure. A program manager for a large software company and a longtime HP user, Combs said he had hoped for an executive with experience in the same part of the industry where HP plays, and he was skeptical of Hurds performance at NCR.
“He did a lot to boost NCRs bottom line, but I didnt really see how he really helped the customer, and thats what I think HP will have to do,” Combs said.
However, Combs said he knows little about Hurd beyond what hes read.
“I dont want to unfairly judge him,” Combs said. “He could be the right guy. I dont know. … Theres nothing there to get me overjoyed at the announcement, but it didnt make me cry, either. I just dont know. Hes an unknown.”