HP Partners Optimistic Whitman Can Right The Ship

New Hewlett-Packard President and CEO Meg Whitman doesn't come to the company with deep industry expertise in hardware or software, but HP channel partners are nonetheless excited about what she potentially brings to the table in terms of leadership.

HP Thursday named Whitman to replace Leo Apotheker as president and CEO, just 11 months after installing him in the post.

"She has a record of success at many levels of leadership, she is a respected business leader. She understands economics and politics. There is not much more you could ask for in someone to lead your company," said David Dadian, CEO of Powersolution.com, a HoHoKus, N.J.-based solution provider.

John Gunn, president of ISG Technology, a Columbia, Mo.-based solution provider, said what HP needs most right now is a CEO with new perspective and a willingness to listen to partners and customers, something he says was sorely lacking under Apotheker. "I think Whitman will be a good choice because she's been on the sidelines and comes to HP with a new outlook," said Gunn. "I think she'll be able to articulate the cloud strategy that HP desperately needs."

Whitman lost a bid in 2010 to become the governor of California. Prior to that, she ran online auction house eBay for a decade, and previously held executive positions at DreamWorks, Procter & Gamble and Hasbro. Her post at HP represents her inauguration to both enterprise IT sales and dealing with the IT solution provider channel.

Some of channel partners' optimism about Whitman's hiring no doubt stems from the turmoil that Apotheker leaves behind. That's understandable: HP's handling of two shockers last month – the potential spin-off or sale of its Personal Systems Group and the speedy demise of its TouchPad tablet – still have many partners scratching their heads, as does the high price tag on HP's $10.3 billion bid to acquire Autonomy. And Apotheker never cultivated a strong reputation as a channel-savvy leader, solution providers said.

But in hiring Whitman, a sitting member of HP's board, HP is once again passing over qualified internal candidates and bringing in an outsider. Prior to Apotheker's appointment, HP's Toddy Bradley and Ann Livermore were considered as potential candidates for the CEO position.

Nevertheless, there is a sense among HP channel partners contacted by CRN that fresh eyes are exactly what’s needed to help pull HP out of the muck in which it’s currently mired.

Michael Haley, president of Edge Solutions, an HP Elite partner in Alpharetta, Ga., believes that Whitman can bring a fresh approach that will benefit HP. "She is admired for her outstanding leadership skills, and it is refreshing whenever a woman becomes a CEO of a Fortune 100 company,’ Haley said, calling the board’s move to install Whitman ’an admirable decision.’

Whitman is the second woman to sit in HP’s CEO chair, following Carly Fiorina, who held the post from 1999 to 2005.

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Some partners see Whitman's appointment as a welcome sign of the HP board stepping up to correct a problem. Kristin Rogers, executive vice president of sales and marketing at PC Mall, a Torrance, Calif.-based HP partner, is encouraged by the board's move and believes Whitman can help right the ship at HP.

"As a large HP reseller, I'm gratified to see a change being made as an acknowledgment of the challenges the CEO's recent actions have created for the channel and end users," said Rogers. "Meg Whitman has a strong reputation as a solid, thoughtful executive, so I look forward to her leadership at HP."

One long-term HP solution provider who requested anonymity said what the HP channel needs from Whitman is a combination of the skill sets brought by predecessors Mark Hurd and Fiorina. More importantly, the HP channel needs a board of that can start doing its job, the solution provider said. "The board needs to keep HP out of the headlines," the solution provider said. "I'm hoping the board will get its act together. We just need consistency and predictability."

While Whitman's experience until now has been focused in the consumer market, that should not be a negative for HP. "She's a very brilliant person," the solution provider said.

In the wake of last month’s revelation that HP is considering the sale or spin-off of its Personal Systems Group, HP gathered Todd Bradley, PSG executive vice president, and other top executives for a conference call with partners to urge them not to allow Dell or other rivals to take advantage of the PSG uncertainty. In presenting a unified front, HP's message was clear: HP’s leadership doesn't end at the CEO's office, but permeates the entire organization.

Romi Randhawa, president and CEO of Fremont, Calif.-based solution provider HPM Networks, would like to see the same cast of executives join Whitman when she addresses the public for the first time as head of HP.

"If she makes it clear that HP is committed to engineering and being the No. 1 PC company, that's what resellers and customers are looking for," said Randhawa. "If she can come in and make an immediate public statement that the circus is over, that would really help."

Steven Burke and Joseph F. Kovar contributed to this article.