Meg Whitman is an odd choice to run Hewlett-Packard. Léo Apotheker, the troubled computer giant’s ousted chief executive, was criticized for the violent way he pushed the company away from hardware and consumers and towards business software and services. Few investors, however, could honestly argue that he was pushing in the wrong direction. Yet Ms. Whitman has spent her career working out ways to serve the very consumers HP is now trying to avoid. By selecting Ms. Whitman to replace Mr Apotheker, HP’s board has made a radical change right out of his playbook. Moreover, its choice will do nothing for the HP board’s tattered reputation.
Ms. Whitman is without doubt a leader. She turned Ebay from an internet start-up and made it into a global brand. She did a fantastic job growing the business, and investors reaped ample reward. In the 10 years from when she took the company public in 1998 through to her resignation, the stock rose 1,500 per cent. But managing a mature company is a much tougher challenge. As its core business slowed and competitors closed in, she struggled. In her last four years as boss, Ebay’s shares lagged the Nasdaq by 30 per cent.
Where might Ms. Whitman begin in managing the colossal challenge of rescuing HP from its problems, many of which are self-imposed? She might be tempted to start by reversing some of Mr Apotheker’s work. But it probably too late to unwind the wildly expensive purchase of Autonomy. There is still time to keep the personal computer division. That would make sense only if HP was preparing to return to mobile computing. Certainly, that is where the growth is, but then HP would be squarely back with consumers and hardware, and up against Apple.
No, Ms Whitman will be better off continuing the transition that was already in the works, but pursuing it in a more transparent, considered fashion.