Watch out tech world. This CEO knows consumers

Say what you will about Meg Whitman as the new CEO of HP. She knows consumers.

Just a couple of days ago, HP was led by a lifelong enterprise software veteran madly dashing to refashion a global technology behemoth into something he was familiar with. During his tenure the well-regarded, though not as well marketed WebOS has been shunted aside. The PC business is now available for takers. It has spent one quarter of its market cap on a business with a billion dollars in revenue – a mere fraction of HP’s annual sales of $125 billion.

It’s amazing what can happen to a company in a year.

Thankfully the board did get the message quickly, and now Whitman, a former board member since January 2011, is in the drivers’ seat replacing Leo Apotheker

Whitman’s background and leadership style are likely to be on the opposite side of the spectrum from Apotheker’s. She knows consumers, inside and out. Her career path reads like a who’s who of consumer brands, from Procter & Gamble (s pg) to Disney (s dis), Stride Rite to FTD, Hasbro (S has) and then eBay (s ebay), a consumer sensation in the early days of web commerce.

Though only an occasionally eBay user myself, it is clear she helped galvanize a community, pursued a cause, and enabled economic wealth for customers and the company itself. In the heyday of the early web, eBay was near, if not at, the top.

Now at HP she’ll have a chance to apply her consumer touch to one of Silicon Valley’s most storied brands. A brand that many thought had a chance to give Apple (S aapl) a run for its money. A brand that many have relied on for personal technology at home and even more at work. And most importantly, a brand that for years has held one of the most innocuous and underexploited positions in the corporate data center.

Watching the enterprise landscape, I’ve often lamented that HP has one of the most undervalued brands in the data center. It does so much, yet seems to lack the awareness of players like IBM, (S ibm) Cisco,(s csco) Oracle, (s orcl) VMware, (s vmw) and EMC (s emc) in their efforts to capture the minds of corporate buyers. It will be interesting if a master marketer will help turn this around.

There is such a great portfolio at HP, so much technology, and so much opportunity. I hope Whitman has the ability to recognize both ends of the spectrum. On the consumer side, we do need someone to give Apple a run for their money. And if it is not HP, I don’t know any other company capable of getting close.

But even more exciting to me is the opportunity to expand HP’s core enterprise business, both hardware, software, services, and now cloud computing. HP servers are well-recognized as tops in the industry, it has a broad networking range, a full line of storage systems, more and more software, and an emerging cloud offering all coupled with the scale to support it. Put this all together, mix in some web and mobile goodness, make sure folks are aware of it and understand it, and who knows what could happen.

Congratulations Meg. And congratulations HP. I hope we are about to see your true capabilities.

Gary Orenstein is the host of The Cloud Computing Show