Global CIO: An Open Letter To HP CEO Leo Apotheker
The IT industry and its customers are changing in profound ways. As you take the helm of the world's largest IT company, here are a few suggestions.
Dear Leo: Congratulations on landing the CEO job at Hewlett-Packard. It's a proud company with a wonderful tradition and after some recent corner-office turmoil, HP could use some steady leadership. It's been about 18 months since my last letter to you when you were back at SAP, and I wanted to offer some observations on some of what's happened since then.
At the same time—and this calls to mind the bromide about "may you live in interesting times"—the very notion of "steady" in these turbulent times seems anachronistic. Somehow, you've got to step into a wildly fluid situation in which every HP manager except the head of catering was "reported" to be in close consideration for the CEO job; every know-it-all was swearing on his life that this time the board would demand an insider for the top job; and every stock analyst was wondering how will the new CEO restore the investor confidence so clearly shaken since the unseemly ouster of Mark Hurd.
But I think, Leo, that all that internal stuff—though clearly being relevant—is trivialized by the external challenges you and your enormous company face:
the upheaval in traditional IT thinking and practices triggered by the rise of cloud computing;
the profound impact on how people work and communicate brought about by social media and collaboration;
the ongoing and prodigious leaps in technology from in-memory computing to plummeting component prices and beyond;
the ascendancy of highly engineered optimized systems that can allow performance to soar and busywork to almost disappear;
the philosophical wars over "the stack" and who controls it, which are spilling rapidly and contentiously into the marketplace;
the rapidly growing sense that major IT companies cannot compete unless they have some hand in strategic, customer-facing applications;
the explosion in the use of and expectations for predictive analytics and the high-powered IT infrastructures and organizational flexibility that surround them; and,
the wildly transformative impact that the mobile-social interplay is having on everything from personal behavior to marketing to product design to supply chains and beyond.
For the leader of HP—the largest IT company in the world—those eight challenges have to be dealt with swiftly and deftly but also decisively, and all of that will happen under intense scrutiny from customers, employees, competitors, analysts, investors, and the inevitable gadflies that always swarm big companies in transition.
But you probably have already thought long and hard about all that, right?
Well, whether you have or not, I'd like to mention now two additional challenges that all CEOs face but that you in particular, as CEO of HP—the largest IT company in the world—will need to handle even more effectively and gracefully than others carrying that title.
The first is customers: your relationship with them, your connections with them, your visceral understanding of their wants and needs, and your commitment to putting them—your customers—at the center of HP's thinking from here on out. Not cost-cutting, not the HP Way, not stock price, not employee sensitivities—just customers. Put them at the center and everything else will be fall into place.
To anyone who might say that's obvious, I'd say I agree—however, some of your experiences as CEO of SAP indicate that in the midst of running a sprawling, complex, and dynamic technology company, you lost touch with SAP's customers and began to view your relationship with them in this way: