The more the Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) deal to buy Autonomy gets scrutinized, the more that outsiders place blame on HP’s board, which unanimously approved the deal. The $11 billion buyout closed in October of last year. Meg Whitman took over as HP CEO the previous month. Did she have time to review the deal? Perhaps not, so she might have asked for a few weeks to do so. Autonomy comes as part of the string of bad news Whitman has had to deliver to shareholders. CEOs, even new ones with good reputations, cannot always survive such relentless bad results. If Whitman does not make it, who could take her place?
Some of HP’s board members may be forced to leave before Whitman becomes a target. But a new board may feel that both the old board and Whitman’s situations will be too untenable to hold whatever credibility the company has with Wall St. — which is almost zero.
The most probable way that HP can bring back investors is with former CEO Leo Apotheker’s plan to break the company into pieces. Its slow-growing divisions, which include personal computers and printers, could be spun out. The more promising software and services business would become part of another company. At least HP would not be such a complex amalgamation of pieces that barely belong together — the result of empire building that has gone on for more than a decade.
Even a company split into parts needs a CEO, and probably one who will stay and run the most promising portion of a new enterprise.
Safra Catz, the co-president of Oracle Corp. (NASDAQ: ORCL), who holds that position with former HP CEO Mark Hurd, would be one of the best candidates, given the success of the company controlled by Larry Ellison. And Catz will not become CEO as long as Ellison is alive. Colleen Arnold, a senior vice president of International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), might be another. She was passed over when Virginia Rometty took the IBM CEO job.
The reputations of Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT), Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) and Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) are too badly damaged now for someone senior at one of those companies to be hired for Whitman’s job. Wall St. would consider a candidate from one of those corporations as second tier.
So, it is a short list, but one HP’s largest investors must be considering already.
Douglas A. McIntyre