The former Hewlett-Packard CEO talked with InformationWeek for nearly an hour about what she learned at HP, what she contributed to the company's turnaround, and how it's positioned to take advantage of Dell's troubles. This is the uncut interview.
Q: A lot of readers wrote in and said they believe you single-handedly destroyed the HP Way philosophy. Do you feel like you did?
Just the opposite. I said you have to have a conversation on top of the table. The HP Way is a label and the problem with labels is that people stop thinking about what they mean. One of the most important things I did was say: Let's quit talking about the label and talk about the values that make up the' HP Way.' Integrity. It means we have direct conversation about the tough issues. Contribution means we have to move from being an insular bureaucracy and become a company that focuses on contribution. Innovation means we actually have to innovate. We have to invest in innovation.
You say you had to invest in innovation, but several readers wrote in and complained that you cut the budget for R&D.
When we combined the R&D budgets of HP and Compaq, we didn't have to have two R&D teams working on industry standard servers, for instance. We could have one. That's why the merger was such a great idea. We could decrease the cost structure by billions and billions of dollars. In the course of my time there, we laid off over 30,000 people. That's why I understand where the anger came from.
Q: OK, were you saying that the HP Way was actually hurting HP?
The real values of the HP Way? No. They're fundamental. But the phrase had become a shield against change. In a meeting when a new idea came up, people would say, 'No, we don’t do it that way.' The original HP Way had nothing to do with dismissing new ideas. We had to get off the label and get on to the underlying values.
Q: A lot of women, and some men, wanted to ask you what advice you have for women coming up through the business and technology ranks.
I started out as a secretary and having become a CEO, I know it's possible for women to make a great contribution to business. I put lots of women in positions of authority at HP and earlier in my career. I know there are people willing to give women opportunities. Seek them out. There are barriers and prejudices and there still aren't enough women in technology and in positions of authority. Really know what you're capable of. Have confidence in that. Seek out people who will take a chance on you. Learn from everybody you can. Don't let other people's prejudice become your burden.
Q: You've said that 2005 was the year that saw your turnaround come to fruition. What was it that you implemented that is behind the turnaround?
The merger. The merger provided the foundation for leadership. We had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in building a direct distribution system for our PCs. It paid off. We had decided to stay in the consumer retail business to compete against Dell. It paid off. We totally revamped our storage line. It paid off. We also had changed the metrics in every part of the business so people knew a meritocracy was what we were trying to create.
Q: What do you think was the best thing you did at HP?
Look, you can't transform or manage a company with just one thing. You have to think bigger. It's not just one thing. The merger. A bureaucracy to a meritocracy. Focusing on customers. And refocusing on innovation. All four of those things mattered and made a difference and paid off.
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