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