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Summary:

Eager to get over the embarrassing departure of former chairman and CEO Mark Hurd, who joined Oracle and was subsequently sued by his former employer, Hewlett-Packard has named a new CEO — but the response to its choice has been underwhelming at best.

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If you’re an employee of Hewlett-Packard, you’ve already had a pretty rough few weeks. First, your chairman and CEO has to step down because of allegations of impropriety, then, just a few days later, he pops up at one of your competitors, and HP sues him. Now the company has a new CEO, so everything should be right as rain, no? Um, no. For some reason known only to HP’s board, instead of picking a well-known player who could seize the reins, steady the ship (pick your favorite metaphor), and fill the market with confidence, the computer company decided to fill Hurd’s slot with someone who, well… doesn’t.

That’s not strictly fair, of course. Incoming CEO Leo Apotheker is the former head of SAP, the giant German enterprise software company — so he’s hardly an unknown — and SAP’s enterprise knowledge could be a valuable addition to HP, some argue. But judging from the response from many observers, he’s not going to fill the industry’s hearts with joy, nor is he going to convince skeptics that the company can quickly get over its recent rough patch and back on the road to success. Some have described his appointment as “a real head-scratcher,” while others have noted that naming him CEO isn’t likely to help HP’s share price (which fell in after-hours trading following the news, and continued to fall today), in contrast to Wall Street favorite Mark Hurd.

Others have been even less kind: One European investor called the choice “idiotic,” while a commenter on an analysis at Fortune magazine said “If HP was a coyote it would gnaw off three legs and still be stuck in the trap.” Some saw the pick as a shot across the bow at Oracle, which is quickly becoming HP’s nemesis thanks to its acquisition of Hurd. Others noted that Apotheker didn’t really shine during his short tenure as head of SAP, left the position involuntarily, and that his time at the top was “brief and ugly,” while some said that his resume “looks like doom” for HP’s consumer software and hardware business.

That’s not to say that the new HP CEO doesn’t have fans; some observers in the enterprise software industry applauded the choice, saying HP is clearly looking longer term, and that using the former SAP executive’s expertise to move into the enterprise space (where it will compete even more directly with Oracle) is a smart move. HP also noted in its press release that Apotheker “helped lead SAP to 18 consecutive quarters of double-digit software revenue growth between 2004 and 2009,” and said that he was “a strategic thinker with a passion for technology, wide-reaching global experience and proven operational discipline.”

In the end, the person who best understands why HP chose SAP’s former CEO for the spot is Marc Andreessen, the venture capitalist and former Netscape 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, however, he hasn’t chosen to share them with the world.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Stephen Brace

  1. The coyote comparison is easily the funniest thing I’ve heard in a while.

    Good luck to the folks at HP, though. The board’s Keystone Kops act may be amusing to us, but 300,000 people are depending on some good decisions from the top to keep their lights on and their families fed.

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  2. Stephen McDonald Friday, October 1, 2010

    …..”some observers in the enterprise software industry applauded the choice, saying HP is clearly looking longer term,…”

    The only people applauding are HP’s competitors. HP has turned into a absolute train wreck. Oracle is going to eat their lunch!

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  3. ctrl-c/v from @rohit_x_ on twitter:
    11 years and counting 1. no HP exec good enough to be CEO, 2. 3rd CEO in a row without tech education, 3. CEO not named Chairman of BoD

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