HP CEO Whitman Pledges Allegiance To The Channel

Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman has never run an enterprise IT company, or a channel focused company, but she's confident that her past professional experiences will help guide her through any uncharted waters she may encounter.

Whitman's first exposure to indirect sales came during her time at FTD, where she was CEO from 1995 to 1997, working with third party florists in the company's affiliate program. That program still exists, and currently has around 12,000 members in North America and 40,000 members worldwide.

"In a funny way, this feels very comfortable to me, because FTD was an association of independently owned florists who distributed all of FTD's products," Whitman said in a recent interview with CRN.

Whitman was CEO of eBay from 1998 to 2008, during which time she gained plenty of experience as an enterprise IT customer, as she often notes. eBay was -- and still is -- a major online hub for refurbished hardware sales, and many small businesses also sell refurbished computer products through the online auction house.

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"eBay would not have been successful without our seller community," Whitman said.

After last year's bumpy ride, Whitman's top priority now is to restore calm to HP. And for partners, she said, that means no more major strategic shifts or unpleasant surprises.

"What they want from HP is a steady, reliable, predictable partner," Whitman said. "They have bet their businesses and livelihoods on us, so it's not great when we make sudden and unanticipated changes -- it's hard for them to run their businesses."

This is music to the ears of HP partners who've been wondering if Whitman will have their best interests at heart. "HP absolutely needs a channel focused CEO -- someone who understands it, talks to it and will foster it," said Bob Venero, CEO of Future Tech, a Holbrook, N.Y.-based HP partner.

Dasher Technologies, an HP partner in San Jose, Calif., recently met with Whitman at HP's Palo Alto, Calif.-based headquarters. In that meeting, Whitman made clear her intention to restore stability to HP.

"She was definitely there to reassure partners that she understood the challenges HP faces and the missteps that were made. She wants to make sure that HP has a consistent message," Dasher COO John Vigliecca told CRN.

Whitman has already made several key decisions in her first four months as HP CEO, including keeping the Personal Systems Group within HP, making WebOS an open source project and ensuring that partners are aware that HP plans to get back into the tablet market when Microsoft releases Windows 8.

Whitman said she feels "great" about the executive leadership that's now in place and seems willing to let the heads of HP's business units run their ships as they see fit. This approach will go a long way toward helping HP return to normalcy, according to Harry Zarek, president of Compugen, a Richmond Hill, Ont.-based HP partner.

"I'm not looking for her to have a grandiose plan. The reality is that HP's business units are pretty well defined now," said Zarek.