HP's Whitman To Partners: 'We've Got Our Swagger Back'

Hewlett Packard channel partners have been through a lot in the past year, but CEO Meg Whitman says she's going to make it up to them by steering HP back in a drama-free direction.

"I want to be a steady hand on the tiller for this company," Whitman said Wednesday in a keynote at HP's Global Partner Conference (GPC) in Las Vegas. "We're going to return to being the reliable, trusted partner you can count on to build your businesses."

Whitman said her first big decision as CEO , keeping HP's PC-making Personal Systems Group (PSG), helped her to understand the significance of hardware in HP's corporate identity. The PSG uncertainty was a major issue for the channel, but Whitman aims to remain focused on hardware even as HP looks to build its software business.

"Seventy percent of our revenue comes from hardware. It's the core of who we are," Whitman told attendees. "We should stand up and be proud to be a hardware and infrastructure company. We're not in the software business to transform ourselves into a software company."

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One important hardware product HP lacks at the moment is a tablet. But despite the head start that Apple and Google have attained in mobility, Whitman isn't ready to concede the market just yet . In fact, she suggested that WebOS, which is currently an open source project slated for launch in September, could be a dark horse in the mobile market.

"Apple's doing great -- they're on fire. But is it is a closed system. Android may end up being a closed system, too. It's remarkably fragmented," Whitman said. "I think there is an opportunity for another OS that relies on the creativity of the developer community. We're going to be very patient. This could be something that, over the next few years, impacts HP and the industry."

Whitman said she doesn't expect to make any big acquisitions this year and will instead increase its internal innovation. HP spent $3.2 billion on R&D -- 2.5 percent of annual revenue -- in fiscal 2011, and Whitman said that figure is going to rise significantly.

"We're going to double down on R&D spending in every single decision of this company," she said. "I believe that if we don't invest in technology, we aren't doing our jobs."

Whitman also said she intends to bring HP Labs closer to the business units. "I want that group to be a little bit more commercial," she said.

Whitman is piloting a return to the traditional egalitarian culture at HP, and has also made clear that she holds her executive team in high regard -- even though she has moved them out of the offices and into cubicles since taking over as CEO.

That team, which Whitman brought onstage at GPC, consists of Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP's $40 billion Personal Systems Group; Dave Donatelli, executive vice president and general manager of HP's $59 billion Enterprise Servers, Storage, Networking and Technology Services businesses; Vyomesh Joshi, executive vice president of HP's $26 billion Imaging and Printing Group; Bill Veghte, who is doing double duty as HP's chief strategy officer and executive vice president of HP's $3.2 billion software business; and Mike Lynch, co-founder and CEO of Autonomy and head of HP's new Information Management division.

Whitman has brought calm to HP at a time when it needs it most, said HP partners. Now she'll have to show that she's got the strategic know-how to guide the company into a future in which its legacy businesses are all facing looming threats, according to partners.

Whitman has started down this road by overseeing a corporate marketing campaign that will include consistent messaging across all of HP's business units, which Whitman said will push the notion of "One HP".

This notion of unity is a long sought-after goal that has proven elusive for HP, but over the course of the next 6 to 12 months, partners will start to see the impact, Whitman said.

"I promise you , we will not let you down," she said.