Great Debate: Can Whitman turn around HP?

Moderated by Andrew Nusca | September 26, 2011 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: Can Meg Whitman turn around HP? Jason Hiner and Larry Dignan debate whether HP's latest CEO can fix all that ails the computing giant.

Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner

Yes she can


No way

Lawrence Dignan

Lawrence Dignan

Best Argument: No way

Closing Statements

She will quickly re-establish stability

Jason Hiner

In 2011 HP has become a company suddenly in disarray and surrounded by uncertainty. It didn't have to be this way. While the company came into the year with a number of long-term challenges it needed to figure out -- tablets, the cloud, the low-margin PC business -- the issues should have been handled much more gracefully and with less disruption to existing business than how CEO Leo Apotheker did it. 

He had to go. He'd lost the confidence of employees and the public. Meg Whitman isn't a homerun as the new CEO. She doesn't have deep knowledge of the enterprise, where HP is likely to focus its business. But, she's a big name who will command respect and she knows how to inspire confidence in employees, investors, and customers. She will quickly re-establish stability at HP, and then it will be time to look ahead and figure out how HP can distinguish itself in the 21st century.

The clock will run out on Whitman

Lawrence Dignan

Meg Whitman may be the best CEO for HP at this juncture, but she has multiple challenges that may take a decade to fit. HP's challenge is that most of the low-hanging fruit has been plucked and now every one of its businesses have long-term secular and competitive issues. Whitman is a great communicator and branding expert and can win over HP's troops. However, in the long run the clock will run out on her. Ramping R&D, defining leapfrog moves and forming a multidecade vision is a lot to ask from a company that has had seven CEOs since 1999.

The best case is that Whitman stabilizes the patient and hands off to an internal candidate that can take the baton of continuity and vision. I see Whitman as potentially the first CEO of a broader relay for HP.

Larry edges out Jason: It's going to take more than one person to right this ship

Andrew Nusca

This may have been our closest debate yet. Both Jason and Larry made salient points about the good, the bad and the ugly for Hewlett-Packard. These are problems that affect every large company: a lot of innovation tucked into dark corners, but a lot of driftwood, too.

However, this debate was about whether Meg Whitman can turn the company around. And to that end, I think Larry edged out Jason: for a company with 300,000 employees and no direction, it's going to take more than one person -- and many years -- to right this ship.

Jason argued that "too much credit" has been given to the boards of directors of big companies. That may be true in some examples, but I think in HP's case it's clear who is -- to continue his sports metaphor -- choosing the quarterback. (NFL fans, consider the Vince Young-Kerry Collins debacle in Tennessee. Coordination often trumps raw talent.)

Meg Whitman has demonstrated her talent in spades, but the willingness of the rest of the company to change with her -- rise to the occasion, even -- is the deciding factor. Her failed gubernatorial run in California demonstrates that it's not always easy to change people's minds. If her biggest asset is commanding respect, as Jason suggested, she could easily and rapidly lose it. And then what?

Doc's final thoughtsIN PARTNERSHIP WITH Ricoh


Meg Whitman’s disastrous run for Governor of California may have steeled her for the difficult job she is about to undertake running Hewlett-Packard – she’ll certainly have to handle some defeats along the way.

But I worry less about her particular experience – we live in the era of the celebrity CEO, and Meg Whitman has celebrity down very well. Big customers will be eager to meet with her and won’t have any trouble telling her about the problems at HP and how they think she should fix them (and in many cases they will be right, as customers often are). More than anything she has to be a good listener. If she can listen carefully and resist over-correcting the big ship HP, she may have a stab at effective leadership.

I do worry a bit that just when HP could use someone a little more touchy-feely to help boost staff morale, they’ve chosen to bring in someone known for being a bit distant (despite her famous me-too cubicle at eBay). But then the CEO doesn’t have to be everyone’s best friend (and unlike running for governor, this isn’t a popularity contest) – they simply have to inspire the team by being decisive, insightful and right more than they are wrong. Meg Whitman has a reputation for being a good leader – let’s give her the chance to live up to the hype.


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  • RE: Great Debate: Can Whitman turn around HP?

    There is nowhere but "up" for HP after a such an inept HP board and its chosen CEO. Hurd was at least certain of the direction of HP, but Apotheker was clueless, scrambling to save his job in the end, behaving like a desperate school janitor who got written up too many times. When the HP board gets together for all but 4hrs a year, screaming bloody murder at the quarterly stock report and just want a "magic bullit" CEO that can lead the company toward a strong product and services leadership position in a reasonable amount of time. The board behaves like they are on the golf couse for 364 days of the year and get upset when HP's earnings fall. They behave like the rich, aloof parents who drop their spoiled kid/ceo in private school and only check in when the principal calls. However, when one kid disappoints, the board merely adopts a new kid- so much for continuity.
    Reply Vote I'm Undecided
    • RE: Great Debate: Can Whitman turn around HP?

      @flyguy29<br><br>That is what I was thinking, ...but you said it so well!

      I am thinking, "None of the above" since the board will undermine her, and then replace her, probably just far enough into the renovation process to make the house unlivable!

      I actually feel sorry for her. She has been set up, and not in a good way!

      (Just my opinion.)
      Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
    • RE: Great Debate: Can Whitman turn around HP?

      @flyguy29 I strongly disagree with you. Hurd only knew one thing, cutting costs. He drove the company down the drain by reducing R&D, reducing collaboration, reducing the fighting spirit of employees. This only mantra was cost reduction. Actually, HP's vision at that time was cost reduction, this is how bad it was. Leo at least tried to come up with a vision, you can agree or disagree with, but it's a clear and consise vision. He could not communicate it and was unable to portray his moves with the vision in mind. There you have a point. Now, I don't know where you got that info of the board meeting for 4 hours every quarter, but that is far, very far from the truth. So, all in all, I believe HP has a vision that makes sense, give them time to execute it.
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • RE: Great Debate: Can Whitman turn around HP?

        @christian.verstraete@... can't disagree completely, but the nail in the coffin was the 180?? change of direction - those who survived the first cut were hit on the second stroke.

        Only - where is HP vision now?
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • RE: Great Debate: Can Whitman turn around HP?

    Great post.
    Reply Vote I'm for Yes she can
    • RE: Great Debate: Can Whitman turn around HP?

      @Accompagnatrici That was well done. You should be doing this.
      Larry Dignan
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • RE: Great Debate: Can Whitman turn around HP?

        @Larry Dignan
        Are you offering him your job? On the basis of saying "me too"?
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • RE: Great Debate: Can Whitman turn around HP?

    I dont think so. Also HP needs a transformational leader not a transactional leader. Leo was never a transformational leader, but had an agenda for that. I see the same pattern here with Meg too. She is a great transactional leader, not a transformational leader. She has charisma, but how much board would allow her to succeed in using that charisma to transform HP into success is a big question.
    Ram U
    Reply Vote I'm for No way
  • Meg is a celebrity CEO

    I foresee Meg having the same issue as Leo: Leo was very successful at SAP, where he made a mint selling software and services. He gets the helm at HP and tries to use the winning formula: software and services. I wouldn't bet against Meg doing something similar and trying to fix HP by turning it into eBay.

    Whoever takes the CEO spot can learn everything they need to know in 30 days - spend 15 of those days answering the phone for consumer tech support, and spend the other 15 answering the phone for server tech support. That'll provide Meg - or whoever - a better idea as to what's broken than any stack of reports the executive VP's will give her.

    Reply Vote I'm for No way
    • RE: Great Debate: Can Whitman turn around HP?

      are you serious? answering the t/s line *might* be indicative of 'what's broken' but it surely won't show how or if to fix it. nor does that cover all of HP's woes at this time.
      would you check the air in your car tires for assurance that the engine is fine?
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided