HP's Whitman Faces Skeptical CIOs At Gartner Event
CEO Meg Whitman faced tough customer questions during her keynote interview at the Gartner Symposium--but will CIOs be persuaded by her answers?
Microsoft isn't the only one trying to answer to big expectations this week. Recent months have seen HP lay off enough employees to populate a small city and struggle to balance its trusted brand against an ambiguous roadmap. So when CEO Meg Whitman took the stage Wednesday for a keynote address at Gartner's Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., many among the CIO-heavy crowd were no doubt wondering what she'd have to say.
Whitman covered a number of themes, notably: the company's future in big data, cloud services, and information security; an allegiance to HP's legacy of innovation; and her belief that the Palo Alto, Calif.,-based giant has positioned itself for long-term growth by focusing on core strengths and rededicating itself to R&D.
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The last of these themes has two sides: a concession that HP's restructuring efforts won't deliver tangible dividends immediately, and a promise that the company will achieve victory by playing the long game. As such, it was the statement that asked the most faith of those in attendance.
Whitman has talked about a multi-year recovery before, but with so many current and potential customers listening, and so many competitors showing off wares elsewhere at the event, the urgency of audience buy-in was arguably at a peak.
[ Don't count on your defense. See Play Offense On Security In 2013: Gartner. ]
In setting Whitman up to make her case, event organizers didn't pull any punches. The session began with a video montage of questions posed by event attendees. The topics spoke not only to the breadth of HP's operations but also to uncertainty surrounding the company's agenda. Queries ranged from whether HP will release a smartphone, to how it will break into information security, to--in a clip that provoked laughs throughout the packed conference hall--how Meg Whitman feels about Cisco CEO John Chambers's September assertion that she has no chance of turning around HP.
Keynote moderators Yvonne Genovese and Neil MacDonald, both Gartner analysts, maintained the theme, cycling through declines in HP's core markets and contentions that it has missed key inflection points such as cloud and mobility, among other topics. The company's bright spots, such as printers and servers, were acknowledged before Whitman was finally introduced to sort things out.
On the whole, Whitman responded candidly; she periodically retreated to the abstract rhetoric you might expect of a former gubernatorial candidate, but generally tackled questions directly. Whether her answers will satisfy the influential crowd, however, remains to be seen.
The moderators began by asking Whitman why she decided to join HP. The former eBay CEO answered that the company's talent pool was a major draw--a remark that probably won't sit well with those the company recently let go, but one to which she nonetheless returned throughout the event. She additionally said that HP's innovations were an appeal, though she acknowledged that many of them need to be repackaged. The computing giant's global reach of 200,000 partners and 27,000 direct sales executives rounded out the strengths Whitman "saw right away."
She elaborated that she took HP's reigns at a "difficult time" and said her task was "to figure out what the company does really well, and do more of that." This remark was the closest Whitman came to addressing layoffs; she argued that restructuring, consolidation, and a shift toward R&D are necessary to reshape the company.