Seen But Not Hurd

Hurd, the former president and CEO of NCR, took over the top slot at HP last week, inheriting from ousted CEO and Chairman Carly Fiorina a channel legacy fraught with conflict and uncertainty. In his first public appearance since taking the position, Hurd was ambiguous about HP's future channel strategy.

When questioned by CRN, Hurd passed on an opportunity to endorse HP pronouncements in February to boost channel revenue by 40 percent while reducing conflict with HP's direct-sales force. "I arrived here at 9 p.m. last night," he said. "I'm doing a lot of listening and a lot of talking, and I think I'll take my time to understand more of where we are before going out with any strategic discussion about any subject at this point."

Adding to the drama of Hurd's arrival at Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP is his assertion that he is not bound by the company's current strategic vision and is free to carve out his own strategy, including the possibility of spinning off HP's printer business. "I was not given any commentary that would stop me from doing anything that would be in the best interest of trying to improve and optimize the company," he said.

HP Chairman Patricia Dunn added, "There were no litmus tests," concerning a no-divestiture strategy.

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HP solution providers said they would have welcomed Hurd's endorsement of the new channel initiatives articulated by HP executives at the Americas Partner Conference in February but didn't fault him for not immediately backing the strategy.

"When I see him saying, 'I've been on the job a day, and I'm not going to start making any proclamations,' I respect that," said Jim Leslie, CEO of Midwave, a solution provider in Chanhassen, Minn. "What it tells me is that in the future when he does make a proclamation, he's thought it through and he means it."

Still, solution providers said Hurd needs to quickly do his channel homework. "He needs to get out into the field and meet with the principals of the leading channel organizations and get an unfiltered view of what we do and what value we bring to the customer," Leslie said.

Rich Baldwin, president and CEO of Nth Generation Computing, a solution provider in San Diego, and president of HP's Enterprise Partner Council, agreed: "The channel does $50 billion annually. That's your biggest chunk of revenue, so you would think one of his top focuses would be to make sure the segment is healthy, figure out what the top issues are and deal with them."

Paul Bay, senior vice president of vendor management at distributor Ingram Micro, Santa Ana, Calif., added: "We want to get in front of Mark and make sure the channel is heard. It's a new playing field. The sooner we get out and evangelize the benefits of the channel, the sooner we are able to engage with HP."

HP solution providers warned that Hurd can't wait long before articulating his channel strategy. "He needs to act fast to energize everyone," said Timothy Joyce, president and CEO of Roundstone, an HP VAR in Alameda, Calif. "I don't think he has to come in and expound on an entirely new vision. They need to execute on the vision that is already there."

Some solution providers noted Hurd comes from a company that generates the bulk of its revenue from a direct-sales force in contrast with HP, which derives 60 percent of its sales from channel partners.

But NCR partners said HP's channel shouldn't be too concerned. "I think he understands and knows how to work with channels," said Bob Johnson, president of NCR solution provider Pinnacle. "But being channel-friendly is a very difficult task if you have a direct-sales force."