HP's Lane does little to quell concerns

Is Ray Lane flip flopping about Apotheker's ouster and Whitman's appointment? It looks that way.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Larry Dignan has the headline: HP's Lane defends board: We didn't pick Apotheker, backed up by an impassioned response to an analyst question:

In January, I added five board members to this board. This is not the board that was around four pre-texting. This is not the board that fired Mark Hurd. This is not the board that did everything the press writes about every day. It’s just like open season to write about this board. It’s not this board. Okay? This board with and (Ann) Livermore, and Leo (Apotheker), with eight new members this year. Eight people that were here before, you know, last January or November for Leo and myself.

Hang on a minute.

It is widely known that Ray Lane was offered the job of CEO but did not have the appetite for the job. However, he was prepared to serve as board chairman with Leo Apotheker as CEO. According to the New York Times:

Among those who rebuffed H.P., they said, was Virginia Rometty, a  senior vice president at I.B.M. Ray Lane, a managing partner at Kleiner Perkins and a former president of Oracle, also rebuffed their approach but indicated he might be interested in being chairman.

So it may not be this board in the manner Lane is currently expressing but he sure had his hands in the decision, as did Marc Andreessen one of the directors named by NYT as part of the selection committee.

More: HP CEO Whitman: PC spin-off still in play, Autonomy deal too

Most recently, when Lane tipped up at Dreamforce, a colleague said: 'You know Ray's credibility is sinking fast,' referring to the ongoing problems at HP.

I have no doubt in my mind that Lane truly believed that Apotheker was the right man for the job - they shared a common enemy - Oracle. But it seems that new factions inside HP arose to ensure that Apotheker could not survive, regardless of what he did. But then Lane adds:

We carefully considered decisions when we make the kinds of — we are embarrassed about the communications of these decisions that could have been done much better, but we carefully considered the decisions made on August 18 to help augment HP’s business. So look, I’m proud of the individuals on this board and the way they work together, and I think the company and the shareholders are well served by this board. It is our operating execution that needs to improve.

So they were behind Apotheker. Or were they? In response to later questions about why Apotheker had to go, Lane said:

This is a company that requires an executive team to be on the same page. I would spend time here or at board meetings or whatever the occasion was and we didn’t see an executive team working on the same page or working together.

So how can Lane continue to defend the board? As I have said before, it's not as if Apotheker's basic strategy was wrong. If it had been then would we not have known about a different course? Nothing in the press release announcing Meg Whitman as Apotheker's successor suggests any reversal of what has gone before.

And what about the continuing leaks? If this board is as good as Lane claims then it only leaves a very short list of others who must be responsible for the Great Leaking Sieve saga. Why are they not out the door already?

Returning to Whitman, I still have a problem reconciling how she will make an appreciable difference. Alongside talking to some of the issues I raised, Rob Enderle fleshes out some of the personal issues. Referring to her ill fated tilt in the political arena:

...recall that she largely lost the election because she alienated the State’s Hispanic base. She did this by showing disloyalty to her long-time illegal alien housekeeper. The attorney who effectively caused Whitman’s loss, Gloria Allred, is the same one who effectively got Mark Hurd fired. As showcased by all the leaks, HP has a loyalty problem at the moment, thanks to Hurd. Getting a CEO who also appears to have a loyalty problem would just make this worse, unless this is overtly addressed.

In the past I have been loathe to comment on HP's board, assuming they had some clue what they were doing. As individuals that may be true but all the evidence and especially hearing what appear to be Lane's apparently contradictory remarks, points the other way when viewed acting as a board.

Bottom line: Things are no better today than they were yesterday or the day before that. HP is still a company in turmoil. Apotheker was thrown under the bus and Whitman was prepared to pick up the poisoned chalice. I hope she does not regret the opportunity.


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