Leo Apotheker's HP legacy: a global vision

As Leo Apotheker departs HP, perhaps his lasting legacy is to give HP a truly global vision and a strategy of capturing the markets, rather than just the corporate treasury, to drive sustainable development.
Written by James Farrar, Contributor

Ten months is not long to turn around a business the size of HP and, though there's been a lot mud slinging in the board rooms of Palo Alto, one thing the HP top brass agree on is that Leo Apotheker's strategic direction remains the right course for HP tp continue to follow. And while HP has had its sustainability performance ratings knocked back in recent times, its worth trying to understand what direction Leo might have taken with sustainability at HP and where it might still be headed.

The HP CEO annual letter to shareholders always contains an impressive section on HP's vision of its role in society, but Leo's one and only was especially vivid:

Collectively, the right information at the right place at the right time can significantly increase the positive impact we have on our most vital issues, like improving healthcare, increasing access to education, and preserving the environment. ......We drive that innovation at an unmatched scale to advance human progress. ........A woman in Ghana can have a face to-face conversation with her daughter in France or authenticate her mother’s medication with a simple text message sent to the cloud. ....The role of technology is becoming increasingly fundamental to the workings of our global society, and we are harnessing the power of information to improve the way people live, businesses operate, and the world works.

And of these things, it can't be disputed, he knew what he was talking about not least because of his role in supporting the institutional development of micro-credit agencies as a non executive director of the non profit, PlaNet Finance.

Whilst HP's role as a leading corporate citizenship was in decline in terms of corporate hygiene issues such as direct operational environmental performance & human rights safeguards in the supply chain (and make no mistake this is critically important at point of departure), there is evidence that Leo had a vision of capturing the markets rather than just the corporate treasury to drive sustainability at HP like hadn't ever  been achieved before. And while some point to the fact that Leo was a virtual unknown entity in Silicon Valley, that very quality may just be vitally important to HP's future success in capturing fast growth markets in developing economies of the future. From Leo's 2010 report to shareholders:

Going forward, we are focused on moving beyond being a multinational company to being a truly global one with both deep local expertise and a comprehensive world view that brings the full value of HP to all customers.

In contrast, Meg Whitman's first email to employees raises the worrying prospect that HP might be retreating from a global vision and telescoping down rapidly from multinational, to what..., nation, state, valley?

We believe that HP matters. It matters to Silicon Valley, California, the United States and the world.

Communication matters, as HP's Executive Chairman Ray Lane pointed out very clearly on yesterday's announcement call though its inconceivable that the new top management would retreat from the firm's developing 'world view'.

So what might have been? A fitting tribute to Leo then comes in an HP press announcement coming just one day before his departure, the title of which says it all. Here are some select bits:

HP Invests for Growth in Africa

New operations in 10 countries bring transformative technology solutions to help drive sustainable, long term growth.

This month, HP announced openings in Angola, Botswana, Congo, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda. The company expects to announce the opening of offices in Ethiopia, Mauritius and Mozambique by the end of the year. HP also appointed a new country manager in each country to lead local operations.  ......

Recognizing the importance of engaging multiple stakeholders to contribute to the long-term success of Africa’s IT industry, HP is investing in a series of collaborations and initiatives with governments, universities and local communities to achieve the shared goal of driving responsible, sustainable growth.  .......

Extending social innovation programs HP has built on its social innovation strategy in Africa, which seeks to deploy cloud-based and mobile technologies through collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to reduce poverty, improve health care, and connect disparate communities and groups. The strategy has already supported significant work in Africa, such as a relationship with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) to improve infant HIV testing in Kenya, and a collaboration with mothers2mothers in support of its mission of preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. .......

HP is extending NGO relationships in five of the countries where new offices have opened:

  • In Botswana, HP is collaborating with Positive Innovation for the Next Generation and CHAI to expand the malaria pilot disease surveillance program to other infectious diseases as designated by the Ministry of Health. The program, first introduced in June 2011 mitigates disease outbreaks through a mobile/cloud disease surveillance solution.
  • In Senegal, HP and Tostanare deployinga technology platform to help bring education to adults and adolescents who are without access to formal schooling.
  • In Uganda, HP is working with CHAI to expand the HIV Early Infant Diagnosis Program, which was first launched in Kenya in November 2010.
  • In Tanzania, HP is working with SafePoint Trust to implement a safe injections program and monitor results
  • In Mozambique, HP and Mozambique Development in Motion are establishing a computer lab in a rural secondary school.
  • In Ghana, HP and mPedigree have deployed a drug authentication system that allows consumers to verify that medications they purchase are not counterfeit.

Of course much credit is due to the energy and enthusiasm of people like Jeannette Weisschuh and Gabi Zedlmayer & the rest of team at HP's Social Innovation Unit who truly personify the 'HP way'. But if Leo Apotheker's sustainability legacy to HP is to inspire a more global vision beyond Silicon Valley for the role of technology and markets functioning at scale for human development, then we should take a moment to say 'thank you Mr. Apotheker and God Speed'.

See also:

Will HP get greener with Meg Whitman at the helm?

Ethical investment revolt - HP and Microsoft deleted from Dow Jones Sustainability Index

HP 2010 sustainability performance report - a mixed bag

Can Leo Apotheker restore HP's reputation on sustainability?

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