Whitman Makes Surprise Appearance At HP's Event In China

Hewlett-Packard unveiled a barrage of PCs and printers at its Global Influencers conference in Shanghai, China, this week, and CEO Meg Whitman capped things off Thursday by showing up unexpectedly and fielding questions from an inquisitive audience.

HP is the world's largest PC maker, and China is now the world's largest PC market by shipments. But Whitman's first address to the Chinese media as HP CEO wasn't about business-focused lip service.

HP has been doing business in China since 1985 and has seven R&D and manufacturing facilities in the country. While HP is facing challenges from Lenovo and Apple, it is also intimately familiar with the Chinese IT marketplace and believes this will be a differentiator.

"We could have done this launch from any location in the world, but we chose to do it in China," Whitman told a crowd of about 500 local and international media at the Shanghai Exhibition Center. "This reinforces China's position as a top technology area and our dedication to China."

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Whitman's first major decision as CEO was to retain the company’s PC-selling Personal Systems Group. Since then, she has made it clear that she never would have entertained the idea of selling or spinning off PSG, and she did so once again at the event in Shanghai.

"We make over 90 million PCs in China every year. We have a real base to build on, and we need to continue to develop that," Whitman told attendees. "We have got to increase our investment in this country, and we are here for the long haul with a significant investment."

In a major reorganization in March, HP combined PSG with its Imaging and Printing Group, forming the Printing and Personal Systems division. That group is led by Todd Bradley, who is also leading HP's efforts to expand its market share in China.

Whitman and Bradley fielded questions from the audience for more than a half-hour. Some pertained to HP's recent merger of its printer and PC businesses and the expected benefits of this move.

"With PPS, we have already made some great progress," Whitman said. "The combination of the groups will remove complexity, and a new unified brand. There will also be more interoperability between devices."

NEXT: HP's Competitive Advantage In China

Lenovo is China's largest PC maker by sales, but HP still sees plenty of opportunity for growth in the market, according to Bradley. "We don’t cede any market to anyone," he said during the Q&A.

HP's unique understanding of Chinese customers, and its recent opening of an R&D center in Shanghai for printers and PCs, serve as evidence, Bradley added.

HP, faced with challenges to several of its core businesses, is in the midst of a restructuring that will likely include layoffs. One audience member asked Whitman if she could provide a specific number for jobs she anticipates cutting.

"As we create the financial capacity to invest in R&D, in people and customer support, we have to look at how we spend money across HP," she responded. "That's a process that we're going through, so everything is on the table."

However, Whitman said layoffs will not impact employees in HP's China-based operations. "There will be no workforce reduction in China on a broad scale at all. You will not see broad-based workforce reduction across any of our businesses," she said.

During her 10 years at the helm of eBay, Whitman had plenty of exposure to the Chinese business marketplace, and one audience member asked her how that experience will inform her leadership of HP.

"Commitment and perseverance to this market is very important," Whitman said. "The Chinese take a much longer-term view than many Western countries. It's not a market where you can take something that works in Europe or the U.S. You have to have products uniquely designed for this market."