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Picking Up The Pieces At HP

Less than four months on the job, HP CEO Meg Whitman has brought stability and solid management to a company enormously important to the channel, but her job is far from over.

HP CEO meg Whitman is still shy of four months in her new role, and we are beginning to see signs she is on the way to fixing much of the disaster created by Leo Apotheker’s 11-month stint.

But there are some big issues facing the very capable Whitman, some of which are of Apotheker’s making and some of which are not, that need fixing and will take months and, in some cases, years to fix.

Making sure HP is never in a position where there isn’t a list of serious CEO contenders in waiting within the company is paramount. For a company of HP’s stature to not have a plan and a program to be constantly grooming its future leaders is hard to imagine. But after having brought in four successive CEOs in a row from the outside, Whitman has to fix this by making sure she is the last outsider. Contrast HP’s record with that of 100-year-old IBM’s, which appointed just one CEO from outside its ranks, and it becomes clear something needs to change.

Start by building a world-class board of directors that no one hears about. I can’t think of a single public company board in any business that has had more drama surrounding it over a longer period of time than HP’s. While I’m a big believer in the independence of a board and generally don’t believe the chairmanship should be held by the CEO, in HP’s case Whitman has to build a stronger board that isn’t prone to bad decisions. Fix the silos and develop an organization that supports the way the customer wants to buy. This is a hugely complex problem no doubt, but over time Whitman has to figure this out.

A company with as broad a product line as HP’s, and as large as it is, needs to be organized divisionally. The issue is that the customer doesn’t want to buy that way, and the indirect sales channel doesn’t sell that way. Divisional structures are necessary in order to drive focus on product. The challenge is to find out where in the ultimate go-to-market chain the divisional structure gives way to a streamlined sales and delivery structure.

The four divisional heads naturally evolve their own businesses differently, with similar, but at times conflicting, interests. A division driving toward a quarterly number isn’t going to naturally adjust for other divisions’ needs. Adding to the complexity is that each builds out a structure to support its needs and further adds to confusion in the market. This is one of the reasons no one can point to a single channel chief for HP. It’s an even bigger issue for the HP channel in the field. With different divisional sales structures driving individual agendas, some partners feel like a ball in an old pinball machine that gets banged around in different haphazard directions.

Whitman and HP need a single face for the channel -- someone that has the power and jurisdiction to corral all HP’s needs and build a strategy that pulls the various interests of the company into a go-to-market strategy. That needs to come along with a doubling down on communication around product and programs. Whether or not HP is in or out of the tablet market is just one of the issues that should be communicated.

Whitman also needs her own independent advisory team -- a group of people from outside HP and independent from the board who is going to tell her what’s going on in the market regardless of what’s going on inside the HP hallways. The great news is that Whitman has already brought stability and solid management to a company enormously important to the channel, but her job is far from over.

BACKTALK: Make something happen. Robert Faletra is CEO of UBM Channel. You can contact him via e-mail at robert.faletra@ubm.com.

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