Hurd choices at HP

Mark Hurd is much more in HP's style than Fiorina ever was. This may help him make hard decisions that she deferred

Mark Hurd, HP's surprise chief executive, has drawn cautious praise and low-key caveats from analysts and pundits alike. Hurd's track record as head of NCR is excellent — he turned the company around and made its Teradata data warehousing and analytics division top of its class against heavy opposition. But can someone in charge of a highly focused $8bn company cope with the $80bn of HP's notoriously diverse consumer and enterprise portfolio?

That's a trite question. Nobody is fully qualified for the HP job: there is none like it. What Hurd demonstrated at NCR is a canny mix of strategic vision and team management, coupled with hard-headed cost control. The investors will like that last bit, and after Fiorina HP needs the first two like Apollo 13 needed Houston.

As a matter of urgency, Hurd will rebuild HP's upper management culture. It won't be a return of the HP Way — without the charismatic engineering-led brilliance of Hewlett and Packard, that's impossible — but some aspects must be recovered. The rest of the company badly needs coherence and trustworthiness at the top, even if it means major reorganisation.

Getting down to details: client systems will never again deliver the return on investment HP needs and should be shucked off much as IBM has done with its PC division. Portable, mobile and desktop systems could even be rebranded as part of the deal — the Compaq name is still going spare, last time we looked.

On the server side, Hurd and HP have the knowledge and experience to take on all comers. HP's strong tradition of engineering excellence tied in with the service-led savvy that characterised Teradata's success will make the company a serious contender for world domination in enterprise data by 2008. HP has always had a lot to say for itself in services, and Hurd now needs to make the story make sense. The man has history in enterprise analytics: expect to hear a great deal more from him on the subject.

Which leaves HP's consumer tendencies to sort out. Even if Hurd doesn't have long term plans to hive off imaging and printing, it makes a great deal of sense to treat them that way. There are no obvious candidates to buy these items, but that includes HP: if they were already independent companies, it would make little sense for HP to acquire them.

Fiorina never made these decisions, although she was widely expected to do so. Hurd, a veteran of a very centralised company, is already seen as someone unlikely to take this path: perversely, this will give him the moral authority to do so while restoring HP's core strengths (just as only Nixon could go to China). A resurgent HP will create a healthier, more exciting IT marketplace — and that will benefit us all.