The answer is yes — er — maybe, according to Thursday’s conference call announcing Meg Whitman’s ascension to CEO.
Whitman and Executive Director Ray Lane left themselves considerable room to maneuver in the analyst call. But, given Wall Street’s reaction to the latest executive shakeup — HP stock hit a six-year low on Friday — the new brain trust better figure it out this time.
“From what I know now, the strategy is right and the initiative we undertook on August 18 [is] right,” Lane told analysts. Whitman said she supports the strategy, but now that she’s CEO, she will review all the initiatives. August 18 was when Apotheker outlined his strategy and announced the planned $10 billion buyout of Autonomy Corp. PLC .
Lane stressed that HP will tend its huge hardware legacy but also build multi-billion dollar businesses in enterprise software and cloud computing. Autonomy for example, could lead to a $10 billion-a-year business in a few years, he maintained.
Still, there is concern among HP customers and analysts that the company is merely echoing IBM’s moves: divesting a low-margin PC business (IBM sold its popular ThinkPad line to Lenovo), and adding more services and software. Only, it’s doing it nearly a decade after IBM. If HP sells off the PC business, it will effectively unwind its 2001 $25 billion buyout of Compaq, pushed through by then-CEO Carly Fiorina.
After all the agita at HP in the past year, starting with former CEO Mark Hurd’s clumsy exit in the summer, the subsequent naming of an outsider — former SAP CEO Apotheker — as CEO over such seasoned internal candidates as Ann Livermore, David Donatelli, Todd Bradley and others, things have not settled down.
Analysts did not seem placated by the latest move. Raymond James analyst Brian Alexander wrote in a note that shareholders should “rightfully question the board’s quick trigger” decision to name a permanent CEO so fast. After Hurd’s departure last summer, HP had CFO Cathie Lesjack take on the role on an interim basis while they looked for a new leader.
And, while Whitman is respected as a “Silicon Valley executive with a long history of strong leadership and execution… it remains to be seen if [she] is capable of running a $120 billion technology juggernaut facing a crisis of confidence,” Alexander wrote.
Hurd was no visionary. but his strategy for HP was based on supply chain excellence and it was working, said the CTO of a large HP customer who requested anonymity because of his ties to the company. “With that in place, you can drive everyone else’s server margins down while maintaining your own [margins]. You can apply the same leverage to storage and network equipment. with the hardware base and pull-through, you can sell software. With software in place, you can sell services.”