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Watch out tech world. This CEO knows consumers

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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

8 Responses to “Watch out tech world. This CEO knows consumers”

  1. percychow

    Apple fanboys – set your memories and way back machines to when Apple almost went under – without Steve Jobs.

    Meg Whitman isn’t Steve Jobs, but then again… he’s not at the helm anymore…

  2. Isn’t HP moving away from selling to consumers after it dumps WebOS & PC’s – leaving printers, calculators and consumables – if that’s the case, then yes, Meg Whitman is certainly qualified to run THAT division but isn’t Hp’s future growth tied into enterprise services, & enterprise hardware – is she supposed to the “rock star” CEO that can get anyone on the phone – is she going to make an office visit to schmooze in Scranton to secure selling 2 servers to Dunder Mifflin? Or I guess rely on Meg Whitman’s expertise to decide the chip roadmap to pursue? Hp is in serious trouble because they decided to fire the current CEO but publicly claim they are going to follow his direction 100% – WTF? And spend what 6 hours deciding to hire Meg Whitman? So, she can follow ALL the paths Leo said he would? WTF? And then let’s examine her record. I have no idea what she worked on before eBay but basically, she made Wall Street happy. She boxed eBay into a corner they still have not gotten out of – she helped stablize earnings by continually raising fees which made WS very happy but pissed off thousands-tens of thousands of sellers who left ebay – once sellers, buyers leave – so no real growth for eBay for YEARS – and she left just in time, she’s no dummy. But is she qualified to run HP? Or they hired her because WS loved her as CEO of eBay but clearly WS has already voted with their feet. So bottom line, they seem to have hired her to be a ‘rock star’ CEO except it’s like plugging in Miley Cyrus as the lead singer of Green Day.

    I feel sorry for HP employees with HP stock in their 401k, they cannot jump ship as everyone else.

    Looks like Oracle will swoop in, buy and keep the parts they want and sell off the rest. HP will be like IBM, a licensed shell name on “consumer” products. Meg Whitman will walk away with $100 million – nice gig if you can get it. But a DISASTER for HP as an ongoing business.

  3. David Pat

    Dell, Asus and Gateway all have advantages for their different segments. I would say they could give Apple a run for its money once Windows 8 comes out. Every new OS lets them sell a lot more PCs.

  4. Yes, selling soap and kids shoes to sonsumers is just like selling computers and printers. Ask John Sculley how selling soda prepared him for the PC industry.

    And yes, Whitman worked as a consultant for those companies, but didn’t really manage most of them. Her biggest and most highly publicized experience was running a website. Nowadays, every company has a website. Blah, blah, blah.

    And while we all know what an expert she is at brand management, keep in mind that the brand is becoming more irrelevant. If the brand was the most important factor in buying a computer, IBM never would have felt compelled to sell their PC division.

    You say we need a company that can give Apple a run for their money, but that’s not going to come from a company that focuses on its brand and channel; especially when they drop their best chance at competing after a few weeks of actually selling a product they took way too long to develop. HP, under Whitman, will NEVER be a viable competitor to Apple. They cut R&D under Fiorina, they cut it under Hurd, and even if she chooses to reverse the trend (unlikely), Whitman will have no idea where to spend it.

    “mix in some web and mobile goodness”? Is that the formula Whitman is going to use for success? Really?

    HP should be forced to change its name, as they no longer resemble the former Hewlett Packard, they just use that “brand” to sell products defined by accountants and brand managers.

  5. Vivien HOUNSOUNOU

    I beg, stop writing anything with Léo’s name in…it has been a nightmare having himat the helm of hp, now that he is gone, let’s forget about him quickly…
    But there is still a problem, the board. Should they be left untouched? I think they should be shelved aside too!