CRN Exclusive: Whitman's Campaign To Bring HP Back

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Whitman's lieutenants are impressed with her unwavering stance on these controversial issues. Most of all, they are glad to have a leader who is not pursuing an agenda that runs counter to that traditional business.

"Meg is saying let's build on our strengths, rather than saying let's go transform," said Vyomesh Joshi, executive vice president of HP's Imaging and Printing Group. "She is basically saying that the hardware businesses and the channel are extremely important."

HP has relied heavily on M&A in recent years, but Whitman said the plan for this year is to "reset, rebuild and reinvest" in R&D. Future innovation will have to come from within HP, and Whitman intends to etch her name in the annals of HP history by making this happen. "I came to this company not for next week or next year," she declared. "I want to set HP up for the next 70 years."

HP saw an inordinate amount of executive turnover during Apotheker's tenure, but Whitman is confident that the team she has in place is the right one to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. "The executive team is absolutely essential to our future success," she said. "I feel great about our leadership team."

That team includes Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP's $40 billion Personal Systems Group; Dave Donatelli, executive vice president and general manager of HP's $22 billion Enterprise Servers, Storage, Networking and Technology Services businesses; Joshi and HP's $26 billion Imaging and Printing Group; and 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.

There is a certain gravitas associated with running multibillion-dollar businesses, yet a playful camaraderie is evident as Whitman gathers her executive team for a CRN photo shoot at HP's headquarters. Team members chuckle as they try to find the right pose, and when one executive jokes that another executive rents his suit by the hour, the group erupts in laughter.

According to Donatelli, this relaxed familiarity is one of the best things about Whitman's leadership style. "She brings a sense of humor to all of this," he said. "This is very serious, and we do a lot of hard work, but we can also have a good laugh while we're doing it."

With a clarion call of "communication, communication, communication," Whitman has instituted a bi-weekly call with her senior leaders. She also hired Henry Gomez, a public relations veteran and close personal adviser who worked with her during her run for governor of California and at eBay, as chief communications officer.

"If we're going to succeed, we're going to have to be a team at the executive level, senior leaders, employees, partners and customers," she said. "When you're going through the kind of change that HP is going through, communication is everything."

Whitman claims that her communication strategy is not broadcast-only, and that she has also been in a learning mode. She has met with some of HP's partners and asked for their frank assessments of the company and its direction. "It's been more conversation to me than the other way around," Whitman said, noting that before she came to the company she did not "understand the power of the channel to this company."

This willingness to listen is an early sign that Whitman "gets" the channel, said Bradley. "I think she'll be much more engaged than Leo, and I think she'll be as supportive as anybody [in helping] HP partners become bigger, better and stronger," he said.

NEXT: Joined At The Hip With Partners

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