HP CEO: Should he stay or should he go?

HP CEO Leo Apotheker

If Hewlett-Packard actually ousts CEO Leo Apotheker barely a year into his tenure, no one can say the move—however drastic–was unexpected.

Bloomberg News reported today that the HP board will meet to consider this dramatic action in the wake of widespread unhappiness over how Apotheker—and the board itself—has managed the computing giant over the past year.

Since he joined as CEO in September 2010, Apotheker has infuriated analysts by perhaps being too forthcoming about the company’s prospects. His predecessor Mark Hurd was known for managing the company expertly for Wall Street and for stock price. (That he also gutted HP R&D and wounded morale inside the company are less-noted facts about his tenure.)

But that was just the beginning. Apotheker’s plan to morph HP into an enterprise software and cloud company discounted the company’s heritage as a hardware manufacturer.

Then, things really went haywire in August when word leaked that HP might sell or spin off its $40-billion-a-year PC business—a leak that Apotheker confirmed on the third-quarter earnings call.

At that time, he also nuked the company’s highly-touted but light-selling TouchPad tablet business, just a year or so after HP spent $1.2 billion to buy Palm Computing and a few months after the TouchPads hit the shelves. Critics said if HP had priced the slick devices aggressively against Apple iPads, they would have done well, especially among business users who lamented iPad’s lack of Flash support.

His decision, announced at the same time, to pony up $10 billion for Autonomy PLC, a British search vendor, further inflamed former HP loyalists. Taken together, the PC, tablet and Autonomy news lopped $12.5 billion off HP’s market cap within a day.

“There was a lot of push back on Autonomy,” a source close to the HP board told me. “That was too much money for too little.”

None of this helped Apotheker’s reputation in or outside of HP, but Apotheker came into this mess late after the board fired Hurd for indiscretions and expense account abuse. Many HP watchers said the board, headed by VC giant Ray Lane, should come in for its share of the blame over the whole fiasco.

“Both Leo and the board should be fired, no question,” one long-time HP partner with tight ties to other HP execs told me. “This transition has been mishandled from the beginning.”

HP could not be reached for comment on the Bloomberg report, which further stated that the board is looking for a possible interim replacement, possibly former eBay CEO Meg Whitman.

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