With Fiorina Out, Whats Next for HP?

Opinion: Will HP stay the course, or will it disassemble what Fiorina assembled?

As travel schedules would have it, I was in Palo Alto celebrating Fat Tuesday the same day Carly Fiorina was getting tossed by the HP board. She would have had a better time at Nolas on Ramona Street.

While there was far more speculation than fact rumbling through Palo Alto the day after Fiorinas six-year reign ended at the Silicon Valley icon, the consensus was that Carlys way and the famed HP way were in the end incompatible. Her construction of an overarching consumer electronics to enterprise-class computing company encompassed a big vision but required either a phenomenally hands-on approach to accomplish it or a set of managers with the skills, freedom and resources to succeed in each segment.

While the board members were not saying much about the reasons for Fiorinas discharge, the need for a company leader with a more hands-on approach was brought up in an early Wednesday media phone briefing as one set of skills they were looking for in a new HP boss. With rumors of Fiorina entertaining political aspirations and interests outside of the technology arena, the board seemed to be looking for someone willing to wade in far deeper into the world of servers, storage and microelectronics. Someone more like a Michael Dell, who stays deeply involved at Dell, or a Bill Gates, who still is conducting product review sessions at Microsoft.

/zimages/4/28571.gifFor details about Fiorinas resignation, click here.

The mood in Palo Alto seemed to be one of surprise at the speed with which Fiorina was removed (it appears to have all taken place in one afternoon), but not so much surprise at the event itself. The question is now, whats next?

One view would see a disassembling of what Fiorina assembled. It would be an acknowledgment that if you are going to compete against Sony in the consumer arena, Dell in computers and IBM in services, then you need to divide and focus rather than look for grand synergies. It is tough to find a lot of support for a stay-the-course strategy, although that was the boards position in the media call. More precisely, it seems to be stay-the-course support until a new leader is found. The most radical view would see a series of spinoffs (most notably the printer business) that would generate a lot of cash and give HP a chance to focus on core strengths.

The biggest competitor HP now faces is time. Buoyed by a more optimistic economic outlook, corporations are once again spending money for technology purchases. HPs competitors have spent the last several years improving their product lines and service offerings. In the corporate world, technology decisions are now being made for 2005 and beyond, and HP needs to get on that short list of preferred vendors or risk being left behind.

Eric Lundquist is editor in chief of eWEEK. He can be reached at eric_lundquist@ziffdavis.com.

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