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Summary:

Should Hewlett-Packard’s board consider entrepreneur-turned-venture-capitalist Marc Andreessen as a candidate for interim HP chief executive in order to burnish company’s reputation and bring back the culture of innovation? Given his deep links and interest in tomorrow’s technologies, it is not such a preposterous idea.

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Mark Hurd could have been one of the greats, at least from Wall Street’s perspective. He took a unruly mess that Carly Fiorna left in her wake, and turned Hewlett-Packard into one the biggest technology companies on the planet: leaving International Business Machines behind and daring to take a bite out of Cisco Systems’ bread-and-butter switching business.

Hurd should have been subject of Harvard Business School case study. Instead, he left under a cloud of doubt, with a somewhat sullied reputation, in an all-too-familiar tale of hero-today-villain-tomorrow, tossed aside on the garbage pile of ruined reputations. He may end up a mere footnote in the history of Silicon Valley.

Whatever the reasons for his departure –- the full story will come out soon enough –- one of the biggest knocks against Hurd was his ruthless cost cutting, which essentially alienated him from the rank-and-file and destroyed HP’s culture of innovation. (Just read the comments in response to this excellent piece by Fortune editor-at-large Adam Lashinsky to see employees’ reactions to Hurd.) Perhaps that’s why the next chief executive of HP needs to “reinvent” the company.

The question is: Who should reinvent HP? There’s a long list of people speculators deem fit for the job. However, the CEO search for the top job at the biggest tech company (by revenues) is going to take time. The trouble is, HP doesn’t have time, and needs to figure out its role in the future, as computing shifts from hardware and desktops to the cloud and our pockets.

Scott Olsen, a web company executive, argues that HP doesn’t have much time to waste.  “Putting in your CFO is the equivalent to hanging a Gone Fishin’ sign in the storefront for all your employees, partners, suppliers and customers to see,” Olsen writes. Like The New York Times’ Joe Nocera, Olsen takes HP’s board to the task.

Olsen argues that it’s time for the board to show that they have an option better than Hurd, who was a Wall Street darling. Olsen says the best way to do this is to see if Netscape founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen will take over as the interim chief executive of the company, and couple him with a top-caliber chief operating office. Todd Bradley, current executive vice president for HP’s personal systems group, is being viewed as a likely candidate for the top job, and would make a good interim COO. If nothing, consider it as on-the-job training for Bradley.

Andreessen is already an HP board member, and is quite intimate with the company (remember HP bought his company Opsware for $1.6 billion in 2007). He’s already heading up the CEO search committee, and he was the public face of HP right after the scandal broke.

Andreessen as an interim CEO is not such a preposterous idea: His investments in hot companies such as Zynga, Foursquare, Skype and Facebook gives them a whole lot of cachet both in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street. He understands the world of technology as only an engineer can, but by now, he’s also a seasoned executive and Silicon Valley diplomat. His investments have made him privy to new and emergent technologies.

About ten years ago, Andreessen told a Forbes reporter that “being a CEO is a very, very difficult job, and it’s almost a personality hard-wiring issue. Not that many people are suited for it, and I’m not sure I am.” He’s been steadfast in that belief. That should help make the board ‘s decision easy, as they shouldn’t expect him to stay in the job permanently. However, for the duration of the CEO search (which could last between three and nine months), he would be ideal to portray the new “innovation-centric” HP. As Olsen puts it:

It would be a crystal clear message to the tech industry that HP is aiming to be a technology player again.  Internally, HP knows that it has —zero— ability to recruit and build a cadre of game changing technologists.  Somebody very high up in BD told me with shocking plainness that the only hope HP has of attracting top tech talent is to do “talent acquisitions” of startups whereby HP would buyout the startup company solely for the purpose of hiring that team as a group.  The back of the envelope was that HP would pay $1 million per developer.  Ouch, and you thought you had a recruiting problem. Marc Andreessen and his considerable tech cred could serve as a rally point for top talent to meet.  It would give the top talent a reason to take the risk and bite the hook on “this is a huge platform.” Continue stable caretaker management while Mark Andreessen works on the plan for the technology and strategic revitalization of HP.

Meanwhile, some institutional investors in his fund (Andreessen Horowitz) with long time partner Ben Horowitz might not be too pleased by this short-term distraction, but nothing assuages the hurt than a nice profit return on investment –- something a successful Skype initial public offering will ensure.

What do you guys think?

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d): HP/Palm Merger Yields Big Opportunities

By Om Malik
  1. Sounds to me like a great idea. I have not met, but have heard Andreessen speak. He’s obviously very bright, and allowing HP to drift would be a bad idea. So, sure, let him run with it, not sure I see any downside.

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  2. “his investments in hot companies such as Zynga, Foursquare, Skype and Facebook gives them a whole lot of cachet both in Silicon Valley and on the Wall Street.”

    I agree that he would be a good choice, but the above quote is not a reason. Those companies are a completely different world from HP’s bread and butter.

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    1. Joe

      The point I was making is that he has exposure to a lot of new technology and it gives him an edge. What I mean by that: most technology trends are flowing from consumer to the enterprise so why not learn from these consumer companies and take them into the enterprise world. So perhaps that makes the connection clear-er. I didn’t do a better job at explaining the connection. Sorry about that.

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  3. Anon SV Player Calling An Audible Sunday, August 15, 2010

    Disagree. Marc is a smart guy and writes great blog posts. But HP is in a dog fight [war?] w/ enterprise, consumer and mobile keeping it occupied and competitors who will play rough to win.
    This may be heretical but, despite all the adulatory press, a comprehensive analysis will show that Marc has been consistently outflanked in every company he has started or led. Even Opsware [f/k/a Loudcloud] had to pivot and Ben H. gets no material props for the amazing job he did to right the ship and drive the execution to a pretty awesome exit.
    So here’s my sugg: HP should hire Ben as the interim CEO, not Marc.

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    1. No argument with me on Ben. But as for this specific case, I suggest you re-read the second half of the post. It is a strategic move mostly to attract the right talent. Try getting that with … well anyone who is on cards right now.

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  4. Om, this article seems like it has a lot of flaws in it as far as facts goes. You guys may need fact checker …

    However, to keep on the same subject, first question would be why no poll?

    Second, I think HP should hire within the company, as there has been countless studies that says hiring from within is statistically better.

    Third, that board has to many people focusing their time on other projects, including Marc Andreessen. It needs to wipe the board clean of anyone not 100% focused on HP.

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    1. Care to elaborate what are the flaws in the facts?

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  5. I see the poll now, I eat my own comment in shame, and interesting to see at the the time of this post the poll is split 50/50.

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    1. No worries. Your comment is appreciated none the less.

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  6. Brilliant idea Om, only a)Marc is way too invested in his Fund and b) He could only be that visionary leader HP needs and may not have the Operational chops to run a complex corp that HP is.

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  7. Andreessen is the sort of technology visionary that Microsoft needs to replace its accountant-trained CEO Steve Ballmer.

    Then again, Andreessen is starting to look a bit more like Ballmer as time goes on.

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  8. Om,

    As a short term fix, yes, brilliant move. It allows the company to have someone at the helm with vision and contacts. It will also put HP on a hot track with startups and early stage companies.

    Andreessen is an engineer first, not a VC. He’s doing that because he can and has proven he knows how to attract capital that earns out. His vision and understanding, contacts and relationships all make him a very good Interim CEO or President of the company, while a permanent CEO is tapped after the hurt is over.

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    1. Andy

      Marc is a great VC and an engineer. You be surprised. Anyway he is a good Interim CEO and that is all the post proposes. Nothing less, nothing more.

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      1. John Malkovich Monday, August 16, 2010

        Om, how do you know that? Have you worked with him in an operational capacity? I have, and you are completely way over your head in assessing his expertise or experience.

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    2. @John Malkovich,

      Please elaborate your point if you can. No point me arguing with you if I don’t quite know what you mean. Thanks

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      1. John Malkovich Monday, August 16, 2010

        Here is the elaboration:

        MarcA has no expertise or experience besides being a PR mascot for different companies. He has never managed a product or team or resources. This includes his stint at NCSA, EIT, Netscape, AOL, opsware. Also his vision is totally flawed. Netscape was originally called Electric Media because Marc wanted to do set top boxes. Ofcourse he was wrong, rest of the Netscape founding team figured that it was the web and browser that was the future. Marc was totally off by a wide margin.

        Marc is a complete bogus PR front man. All talk, all fluff.

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  9. Seth Weintraub Monday, August 16, 2010

    Andreeson’s better than a CFO that professes to have very little interest in technology (see video here).
    http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2010/08/06/hp-ceo-mark-hurd-steps-down-amid-sexual-harassment-claims/

    But as the article above states, it only took a few months to find a replacement for Carly (Hurd from NCR). I think the CEO job is Bradley’s to lose so two months should be enough to scoot by.

    If you want to keep the workers happy, promote Jon Rubinstein to a prominent role. As an Engineer, he (along with Andreeson) understand the needs of HP’s most important workers.

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    1. Seth

      I disagree — this is a very toxic gig right now and HP board has to make a good show of going out and talking to a lot of people for the top gig. Sure Todd is going to get the job, but it will take a lot longer.

      Secondly, on Jon: well he did a great job at Palm. Right!

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    2. +1 on John Rubinstein.

      @om He is not good at what Mark Hurd is good at . i.e. Actually running a company and making .. you know profits …

      But if you want a visionary / engineer / attract talent etc. rubinstein is awesome at it . What he did do at Palm was create great products.

      Overall I am against HP elevating Rubinstein mainly because HP needs (another) Mark Hurd type at the top. I mean thats the business they are in.

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  10. Good idea OM, even as a permanent CEO. He could bring a startup culture at HP. But could he focus enough on HP when you know he’s involved in so many other things? The risk of being distracted is so high.

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    1. AK,

      I don’t think hiring him as a permanent CEO is the answer. His ability to work on different things is what gives him an edge. The amount of time HP might take is going to take him away from all those “other things.” I think in the long run he is better off as a board member.

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  11. Om,
    Nice post, but doubt if your proposal will come to pass.

    Hurd turned HP around but it was time for him to go and it the board used the philandering as aa pretext to make a change. Cost-cutting cannot build business.

    Growing a large company is about making bets on market trends. Apple bet on mobile, IBM bet on services, Walmat bet on China etc. In each of these cases, technology is an enabler, not the bet.

    I doubt Andreesen. More likely an outsider.

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  12. Makes no sense to me. HP needs a Operational executive who has run large company and move it further. Marc has no prior expertise running anything bigger than 200 people (at best). Running hardware, professional services is definitely much more complex than running a IT Automation Startup where again it was Ben Horowitz who ran it. HP needs a strong visionary leader – someone like Ray Lane (if he is up to it).

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  13. I know this guy MarcA, biggest fraudster in the world. Here are his accomplishments:
    * Worked at NCSA as a PR mascot boy for Mosaic. Didnt write a single line of code but took full credit
    * Worked for some SV startup for 6 months, didnt do anything there as well.
    * Worked at Netscape, again as a PR mascot. All talk, no work. He had no responsibilities, didnt write code or manage people, products or resources.
    * AOl, same result. Didnt do anything, no responsibilities, left in 6 months.
    * Opsware, almost shut down twice. His contribution: sit on the board using his netscape money.

    So all in all he is just a PR hack, all talk, no expertise or experience.

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  14. Rurik Bradbury Monday, August 16, 2010

    HP is far too complex a beast to entrust to someone with little (no?) relevant experience at that scale. $100 bn+ in revenues, enormously complicated integrations (esp EDS) underway. Andreessen should focus on finding the right CEO, not learning to swim in the deep end.

    At this level, a cosmetic, PR-driven appointment will not cut it. This speculation reminds me of when McCain picked Palin (though Marc is much smarter and more capable): a quick PR win, but it was soon clear she was out of her depth.

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  15. Om,

    Good article – makes you think a bit. The main question that comes to mind is why people believe Marc is the right person for the job? Is it because of his SV celebrity status coupled with the fact that he is the “face” of HP’s board during the scandal or because he’s the right person for the job (implies that others on the board are not as capable)?

    Maybe you should put in your name to the hat? ;)

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  16. [...] founder who headed up the search committee for a new HP CEO — and who some believed that should himself have been made interim CEO while HP worked on its future strategic direction. If Andreessen has any thoughts about Apotheker, [...]

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  17. [...] so long, that I can remember when Marc Andreessen was still in Illinois and long way from becoming the newest King of the Valley. And in the years that have passed I have written about some of the most memorable startups –- [...]

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