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Meg Whitman gives HP a much-needed adrenalin shot

Mon Feb 20 2012, 18:13

Whitman was also decisive about the future of HP's Personal Systems Group (PSG). Apotheker procrastinated on PSG, saying he wanted to put it up for sale or maybe spin it off, then changing his mind again. Whitman came along and very quickly decided PSG had value and was staying. Not a bad decision considering how much revenue HP still makes from PCs and the rest - around $40bn in its last financial year - and the buying power PSG gives the firm over lower-cost components for its other products.

Another plus point for Whitman is her focus on innovation. At GPC, she announced that HP will double the amount it spends on research and development, something she clearly believes the firm should have been doing anyway. Rival IBM has managed to build on its first 100 years of technology innovation, cementing its position as an enterprise player while still creating a buzz out of innovations such as Watson and advances in nano technology and memory coming out of its labs.

HP hasn't been associated with this type of innovation for a while now, and much of the new and innovative HP technology I think of, such as Autonomy, has come from acquisition rather than internal expertise. If Whitman manages to refocus the firm on creating and developing its own ideas, that will set HP out on a stronger path to compete with its rivals and stay relevant.

But she was quick to shatter any illusions that HP is going to become a touchy-feely developer company where imagination outdoes sales, adding that she wants HP Labs to become more commercial and speed up the process of turning an idea into a money-making product.

What struck me most about Whitman was her persona as a leader. For her Q&A session, she called her key executives up on to the stage, and introduced them all with warm words: VJ is an HP veteran who "carries the essence of the company"; Mike Lynch, who heads up recent acquisition Autonomy is a "remarkable asset" - even feeling comfortable enough to make a joke about the amount HP shelled out for the firm.

What was interesting was that the executives looked genuinely pleased about what she had to say. It's not often that a CEO dedicates a fair portion of their keynote to praising their staff, generally that's done as a quick passing mention, but Whitman's words sounded genuine, and her team seemed to take them as such. So when she went on to call on her division leaders, and their executives, and every one of their staff to be ambassadors for HP to help the firm "get its swagger back", I can imagine that HP employees might actually be persuaded to have confidence in the company.

It would be naíve to think that Whitman can turn around HP overnight and wave a magic wand to solve its many problems, but her approach so far certainly seems to be setting the firm on the right path. µ


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