Wait—Who the Hell is Mark Hurd?

Illustration for article titled Wait—Who the Hell is Mark Hurd?

Howard Stringer is a goddamn knight. When Amazon bought Zappos, we saw Jeff Bezos' 8-minute YouTube video and wished he'd absorb our companies too. So now that HP's CEO has resigned, I gotta ask: Who the hell is Mark Hurd?

Right? We hardly know anything about the guy.

And we love our tech CEOs. We know that Michael Dell heads up Dell and that Mark Zuckerberg is quite possibly the most boring person on the planet (but at least we know that). Larry Ellison has been compared to Tony Stark, and Elon Musk actually hobnobbed with Ironman in Monaco! (Espanol!) We're obsessed with Steve Jobs. Hell, most of us even know who Mark "the Manchild" Pincus is, and his company does little more than amuse our more braindead friends while cluttering our Facebook feeds with updates about imaginary farm animals and gangsters. So why is it that nobody heard anything about the CEO of the world's largest PC maker until he got in trouble for sexually harassing a former Skinimax actress?


To be fair, he was hired more for his fiscal and operations chops than for his personality.

After CEO Carly Fiorina halved HP's stock price and was forced out of the company, after her (interim) successors got nabbed for spying on board members, Mark Hurd stepped in to fill a maturity vacuum at the company. Almost immediately after taking the job, Hurd cut HP's workforce by 10-percent, reigning in a corporation that had become famous for bloat. Things were looking up. (Well, except for the people who got laid off.)

And under his tenure, HP has done extremely well. In 2006, it surpassed Dell to become the world's largest PC maker. In 2008, it beat out IBM on profits. And, just a few months ago, HP bought Palm. That was a savvy move that put the technological juggernaut in possession of a potentially powerful weapon: Palm's Web OS, which could be easily tweaked into a kick-ass tablet operating system. (Begun, the tablet war has.) Before his resignation, stock prices were nearly 150-percent higher than when he assumed his post. And still, you've never heard of the guy.


That's probably because Hurd is notoriously media-shy. A 2009 profile in Fortune magazine says he "detests the spotlight" and would "rather talk in numbers than words."

That may have been OK for the company's recent era of rebuilding, but that era is over. It time for HP to consider a different figure: zero. That's the amount of publicly perceived charisma its ex-CEO possessed, and that's something the company cannot afford to repeat.


Hurd's departure is actually a good move. Something HP should have considered even if Hurd could keep his expense reports straight. Now that he has gotten HP's financial house in order, Packard has the opportunity to find a charismatic visionary Chief Exec: someone with the vision to take the company's legion of products and services and unite it into something people actually want, not just cheap laptops.

It's funny: When Fiorina left HP, a former exec was quoted as saying "This is a company that doesn't need a statesman. It needs a hands-on operations person." At this moment, it appears as if the exact opposite is true. HP is the world's largest computer manufacturer. It needs a leader who acts like it.


Illustration by Chuck Anderson. See Chuck's work at www.nopattern.com and follow him on Twitter.

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"That's the amount of publicly perceived charisma its ex-CEO possessed, and that's something the company cannot afford to repeat."


Some of the best CEOs in the country try to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible. Some can't avoid it however. The risk of a PR dilemna because of a mispeak or some method of conspicuous consumption that offends the populist zeitgest is much much greater than not having a high profile or charismatic CEO.

Also, companies like HP that do more manufacturing don't need "charismatic" leaders. They need brutally efficient operational minds.

The lifeblood of HP isn't innovation, it's operational efficiency. Computer parts are commoditized and margins are lower than they were a decade ago. The notion that a visionary and charismatic CEO is always the better CEO is a false one.