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Really, HP? You're Going to Fire Your CEO Now?

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Bloomberg reports that the HP board is going to meet soon to decide whether or not to fire CEO Léo Apotheker. And I don't see how that makes matters anything but worse.

Look, we've been as critical as anyone about HP's recent maneuvers, from the TouchPad fire sale fiasco to keeping PCs at arm's length to the Autonomy acquisition. And yes, it would be negligent of the board not to at least talk about how the company ended up in such a bind. But if Apotheker goes down, he'll be the most transparent scapegoat since Bill Buckner.


As surprising and seemingly erratic as HP's actions have been over the last few months, it's important to remember who Apotheker is, and where he came from. That is to say: the guy the HP board hired in the first place. And if you know that guy, a lot of what's gone down lately makes perfect sense.

Apotheker joined HP from SAP AG, where he'd helmed one of the world's foremost enterprise software companies since 2008. He's not a hardware guy. He's not a consumer guy. He's a solid enterprise salesman who, if you're a company coming off of the shaky and occasionally sordid leaderships of Carly Fiorina and Mark Hurd, represents stability. More importantly, in a post-PC world, he gives you the chance to remake yourself in the vision of an IBM. Or an SAP.


The HP board knew that's what they were getting. And that's essentially what they got: the TouchPad debacle killed off a platform Apotheker had inherited and a market he wasn't comfortable with. Ditto the move away from PCs. And the Autonomy purchase (even though HP likely overpaid) is the company's chance to leverage Apotheker's expertise and rebuild itself into an enterprise software powerhouse. Whether any part of that strategy is right is highly debatable. And the execution has been inarguably sloppy. But I find it hard to imagine that HP's board feels blindsided.

What did they think was going to happen? They brought in a guy whose skill set made him uniquely qualified to turn HP into a company that's barely recognizable from the one we all grew up with. And if they're chalking Apotheker up to an unfortunate choice, well, just add him to the ever-longer list of bad hires. And maybe start looking at the people who keep handing contracts to disappointing CEOs. You know, themselves.


And then there's this: while Apotheker's dramatic transformation of HP may have been for the worse, he's also (ironically?) the most qualified person to run what's left. Why not give the guy a chance to prove he knew what he was doing? Who's more capable of milking every last synergy out of Autonomy? Meg Whitman's name has been floated as a possible successor, but she's every bit as detached from HP's core business now as Apotheker was when he signed on.

Give the guy a chance, HP board. No one's going to put HP-Dumpty back together again, not like it was. So you might as well stick with the guy who can make the best omelet. [Bloomberg]


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