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HP Strategist: CEO Whitman's Five-Year Commitment Is Key

HP's top strategist says CEO Meg Whitman has made a five year personal commitment to take HP back to "incredible greatness."

HP CEO Meg Whitman has made a five-year commitment to remain at the company as part of her ambitious bid to pull off what could be one of the great turnarounds in corporate history.

That was the inside word from HP Chief Strategy Officer Mohamad Ali Tuesday in an address before an estimated 150 partners and customers at an HP Printing and Personal Systems Group "Engage" road show at the Sheraton Hotel in Framingham, Mass.

"Meg has made a commitment to the company. She said 'I am here for five years. I am going to work for a dollar a year,'" said Ali, who joined HP as top strategist just five months ago. "Lots of equity if the company actually performs. But a dollar a year. And, we are going to take this company over five years back to incredible greatness."

[Related: Whitman: No Smartphones In 2013, But HP Will Tussle In Tablets ]

In an interview after his address, Ali told CRN that he asked Whitman specifically about the five-year commitment when he joined the company. In fact, he said he turned down a job for a $100 billion company and instead took the job with HP because of Whitman's commitment to technology innovation.

"I actually asked Meg, 'Are you in this [for the long term]?'" said Ali, the former CEO of Aspect Software and a former IBM strategist who led the charge on a number of high-profile IBM acquisitions including Cognos. "At the time, there was some concern that, depending how the [presidential] election goes, she might end up in the cabinet or in government. She was very clear to me when I spoke to her that she is in this for the long haul. She has now repeated publicly that she is in this for five years."

Whitman, who took over as HP CEO and president in September 2011, is firmly focused on restoring HP's legacy as technology innovator, said Ali, who reports to HP Chief Operating Officer Bill Veghte.

Ali said HP's strategy can be summed up succinctly in one word: Innovation. "HP Invent is back," he asserted. "Meg laid that down very clearly the day she joined."

HP executives said Whitman has stepped in and recast some products to assure that the company's new products meet the innovative litmus test. At the Engage road show, HP showed off, among other offerings, its new ElitePad 900 Windows 8 Tablet, which is slated to ship Jan. 21, and its HP M575c multifunction color printer, which will be outfitted starting in March with Autonomy capture management software. The Autonomy software has been updated with a new interface and renamed HP Flow CM (Capture Management) and will be priced starting at $20 per user. "We have the strongest product lineup we have had in a long, long time, " said Ali.

NEXT: HP's Top Strategist Talks About HP's Moonshot Server Project


What's more, HP's Ali said the company is working on a groundbreaking new server development project, codenamed Moonshot. "This is not a research project," he said. "This is a development project in the server group. It will be a phenomenal machine. This is the kind of stuff we didn't invest in over the last 10 years. Now we are investing in this kind of technology."

HP also has the most complete software-defined networking (SDN) stack in the market including hardware, middleware and applications, said Ali. "There are a lot of people who have really good pieces but nobody who has as a complete software-defined networking stack," he said. "That is an area we are going to take a heavy run at."

Glen Jodoin, vice president of marketing and operations for GreenPages Technology Solutions, one of the top cloud computing solution providers in the country that attended the HP road show, said he was impressed by the message from HP's top strategist. He said Whitman's sharp focus on innovation and five-year commitment is a boost for partners and customers.

"When Meg came in, HP was in total disarray and in bad shape with regard to innovative technology," said Jodoin. "They built the company on innovative products and technology and then became weak. They hadn't kept pace with what customers were looking for. Now they are coming out with innovative, cool stuff. Meg is the right person for the job, and her committing to five years is comforting because it gives HP time to right the ship."

There is a big difference between HP and IBM, which faced a similar turnaround scenario in the late 80s and early 90s, said Ali.

"This is not like IBM in 1989 where the company had to borrow money to pay the employees," said Ali. "We have $5 billion in free cash flow. It [HP] is a profitable company. We have great products. We have great technology. But, it is going to take a little while for us to get back to where everybody wants us to be, where we want to be: as 'a' or 'the' leader in the technology industry. And I think Meg believes that, but she also believes it is going to take time. And she has committed this amount of time to make that happen."

Ali said he sees Whitman's five-year pledge as key for customer and partner confidence. "I think it says a lot," he said. "I think she believes that we are going to be a phenomenal company again."

HP will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year, and Whitman is focused on making sure that the company continues on its legacy of "delivering innovative products for the next 75 years," said Mike Parrottino, HP vice president and general manager of U.S. SMB Sales for the PPS.

PUBLISHED JAN. 8, 2013

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