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HP management’s latest mistakes have ship foundering

By my reckoning, HP management hasn’t made a good decision since about 1999. After Lew Platt, HP did the following: hired Carly Fiorina, bought Compaq (which hadn’t yet digested Digital Equipment Corp.), fired Fiorina, hired and fired Mark Hurd, and hired and fired Leo Apotheker in less than a year (and made tons of other acquisitions). How long do you think former eBay chief Meg Whitman — named HP CEO last week — will last?

The HP Way,” it seems, is in some dire need of the stimulus dollars being spent on the rest of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

The innovation culture has given way to a culture of pervasive corporate restructuring, refocusing and repositioning, the latest being the muddled message about divesting the PC and WebOS businesses. Meanwhile, the person probably best suited to guide HP since Platt all along, Ann Livermore, was sidestepped at least twice for the top job at HP and this year booted up to a board role.

In the midst of all that, Mark Hurd said, “Everything we do must be for the customer. If it’s not, then we need to reconsider why we’re doing it.” Customer focus certainly would be the best and most obvious purpose of the CEO, but too often the reality is that his or her main purpose is satisfying the shareholders, most of whom are not HP customers.

This is not exactly the “Innovator’s Dilemma,” but it does help explain how a company that rose to power on flat innovative management has become a giant ship drifting around, trying to find its way in the ever-changing currents of the post-dot-com seas. If Whitman is to succeed, she needs to simplify the message to shareholders, customers and employees alike. That may be difficult, when it’s hard to tell if there is a message left to tell.

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