HP's Whitman: The Right Attitude For Driving Channel Growth


A few weeks back I had a private lunch with HP CEO Meg Whitman and Chief Communications Officer Henry Gomez. The agenda was simply to talk about the channel and HP's position.

The discussion was off the record so I'm not going to reveal details here, but I will mention attitude and, in my opinion, attitude is everything in channel growth and management. HP is arguably the most important vendor to the solution provider channel. Its brand is well-regarded and its product line so vast that it's always a consideration when building a solution. More partners have strategically aligned themselves to HP than any other vendor.

But it's no secret that HP has had its difficulties over the past few years and, in particular, was set adrift by Leo Apotheker. But that was then and this is now, and I feel Whitman has the right attitude.

[Related: CRN Exclusive: HP's Whitman On Dell, Taxes And Windows 8]

So what do I mean by the right attitude? First and foremost, she's focused on the channel for the right reason. She understands its importance to HP's success.

When a CEO of an organization believes the channel is important to the future of the company, things happen. They don't just happen in the executive suite, they happen throughout the organization. Everyone inside an organization wants to please the captain, and Whitman has made it clear she wants the HP channel fixed. That type of attitude sets direction. It gives employees a sense of purpose and it helps everyone inside the organization understand how to make the right decision.

When it's not clear what the CEO wants in its channel, as was the case during the Carly Fiorina and Apotheker stewardships, the organization vacillates and is incapable of making the right decisions. Whitman has changed that, and I found it not only during my meeting with her and Gomez but also during a series of meetings with other business leaders at HP. More importantly, this attitude adjustment is being felt by the partner base that is seeing the change and hopefully it will continue.

What's also clear is that Whitman isn't blind to the problems. She understands she can't just say something once and expect it to happen. She clearly isn't buying everything she is being told, and she is committed to tweaking the program and execution to continually improve it. Again, to me this is the right attitude.

I don't think we in the channel can expect everything to go perfectly. I do think we can expect to see steady improvement as the new partner program rolls out, and as Whitman's attitude becomes ingrained throughout the organization we should expect that ease of doing business with HP should improve.

Thankfully, Whitman understands the challenges better than most CEOs. But her history as former CEO of eBay helps. eBay is the ultimate channel company, built on the concept of taking a fractured channel that had no way of reaching a large customer audience, then giving it a way to publicly put its wares on display. While individual sellers were important to eBay under Whitman's reign, it was those that made a living on eBay that became most important. The HP channel may be more sophisticated and complex, but Whitman is no stranger to building a large business with partners.

In the end, it's her attitude that is most important. It's what I think partners should feel very good about because the signal is this is the direction she wants to go and believes it is necessary. That attitude from a CEO is the fastest way to change an organization and that is certainly happening. So long as Whitman remains consistent and doesn't vacillate over time, the HP channel is only going to become better and more lucrative.

Robert Faletra, CEO of UBM Tech Channel, writes a monthly column on CRN.com. You can contact him via email at robert.faletra@ubm.com.