HP — uh…

The title pretty much explains it all. I’m really not sure what’s going on with HP as a company. I’ve seen them go from a pretty good company to one similar to a giant chicken with its head chopped off. They’re floundering around with little direction and functioning like like a company with their mind on the money and money on their mind, and not like one who wants to do something interesting.

Since April 2010, HP has done the following:

  • Bought Palm, which didn’t become official until later that summer.
  • Had gone through the a scandal and subsequent resignation of then-CEO Mark Hurd.
  • Promised that the Palm acquisition would amount to something.
  • Hired a new CEO by the name of Leo Apotheker, or as he’s known in the streets, Leo Apotheker.
  • Promised the world of webOS (tablets, phones, computers, and even printers).
  • Released the HP Veer, Pre 3, and Touchpad.
  • Killed the Palm brand.
  • Killed production on webOS (sorry, no webOS printers).
  • Seriously contemplated spinning off the consumer PC devision, which may still happen.
  • Let go of Apotheker.
  • And in the same day, hired a new CEO. This time, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman.

So in 17-odd months, HP has gone through three CEOs, and a few Lassie-styled euthanasias. Quite the track record, huh?

This shift is blamed solely on themselves. Of course, they were struck by an unfortunate turn of events, but the bulk of the problems can be laid right on them. And the first domino to fall was the resignation of Mark Hurd.

To me, Hurd was a pretty darn good CEO. During his tenure, HP did extremely well as a company. They were profitable, they came fresh off of the Palm acquisition, and they looked like they were a forward-thinking company. 

And then came the scandal. I’m not going to dive too much into it (read: not at all), but you’re welcome to read the stories on it. So with that, he had to take the boot. Unfortunate, really, but that’s how the cookie crumbles in the executive role. 

Of course, there had to be a successor, which is where this gets really interesting. If this New York Times story is to be believed — and I don’t doubt it as there have been whispers of issues within HP — the problems within HP are so deeply entrenched, it’s troubling. “It has got to be the worst board in the history of business,” said Tom Perkins, a former HP director, to NYT.

Among their revelations: when the search committee of four directors narrowed the candidates to three finalists, no one else on the board was willing to interview them. And when the committee finally chose Mr. Apotheker and again suggested that other directors meet him, no one did. Remarkably, when the 12-member board voted to name Mr. Apotheker as the successor to the recently ousted chief executive, Mark Hurd, most board members had never met Mr. Apotheker.  

 “I admit it was highly unusual,” one board member who hadn’t met Mr. Apotheker told me. “But we were just too exhausted from all the infighting.” During Mr. Apotheker’s brief tenure, once-proud H.P. has become a laughingstock in Silicon Valley. Its results have weakened, its stock has plummeted and his strategy shifts have puzzled people inside and outside the company. Hewlett-Packard did not respond to an email seeking comment.  

So HP chose a new CEO without meeting the man. It doesn’t take much to realize how much of a bone-headed move that was, which was set off by the “infighting” among the board members. And if you consult the Official Cookbook for Disaster, infighting is a common ingredient. 

And now, we went from “HP may choose a CEO” to “HP’s CEO may be Meg Whitman” to “HP’s will announce Meg Whitman as the new CEO” to “HP announces Meg Whitman as new CEO” — all in one day! Nuts, isn’t it?

Where does HP go from here? The company is going to go through some changes like a kid entering puberty. There’s a new CEO (Whitman) and a new executive chairman, and “focus” is the buzzword, as noted in their letter to the company:

A top priority for us will be to refocus the energy of the organization on our mission and on the performance necessary to accomplish it. We need you to be the ambassadors of HP and work both collaboratively and effectively to usher HP into the future. To reach that goal, we need your best work and a focus on execution.

Maybe Whitman and her new executive chairman have the answers to guide this company. Maybe they don’t. The proof is in the pudding. What we know is that they have an uphill battle. The pretty much lost webOS, the only thing differentiating them from every other PC manufacturer, and they’re looking to bail out of the consumer PC market. The latter isn’t as bad as it seems. HP realized that the consumer PC market is a race to the bottom — ostensibly the quest to make the best computer for the cheapest amount of money, and with the downward pricing pressure from other companies, they’re sold with little to no margin. (Remember the boom of netbooks? Yea, that.)

That being said, it’s looking like HP will only cater to the enterprise side. But they’re getting a lot of resistance now that companies are aware of that little factoid.

“The company is coming apart at the seams,” said one person familiar with H.P.’s operations. “Because they may or may not be selling the PC business, the enterprise side is completely frozen. The business customers who buy tens of thousands of these machines along with support contracts are shutting them out. Dell and Lenovo are all over these accounts. They’re having a field day. H.P. is self-destructing.”

So the company just can’t win. What a sad state of affairs.

A great man (a cartoon character, if I recall) once said, “one must look within before one looks without.” Hey, HP, take care of your board first. They’re tearing you apart, and before you know it, there’s going to be a mass exodus. I hear the Apple campus isn’t far from your offices.

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