1) He was obsessed with IBM's image and reputation. During Hurd's 45-minute Gartner presentation, it was fascinating to watch him insist that he was not there to talk about IBM—and then go on to talk quite a bit about IBM. Asked for his thoughts on IBM, he said this:
"I don't follow them that closely [audience laughs] so I don't know what they're working on so maybe you can tell me. Sounds like they're trying to chase us [more audience laughter]. I think that the companies are very different—so I think in the end, yes, there are some services competition between us and a couple of people, but if you try to overlay market positions in the infrastructure business—and I'm a big believer that when you look at these infrastructure segments [PCs, servers, storage, networking, software, services, etc.], you can't be in any one of them as a hobby—you will not compete in these segments of the market as a point-product player over the long run.
"Because compared to any competitor out there, you have to bring a combination of low cost and total cost of ownership supported by innovation. So when you look at HP, I think HP says, 'We plan to compete and lead in each segment of that [infrastructure] stack,' and I don't think you can insert the company you mentioned or any company for that matter against that map. . . .
"When a company would sell off its PC business, for example [audience laughter]—I'm saying if they would—I'm not sure who would, but if they did—you would have a problem because you would no longer be as big a customer to all those people that supply all those products as part of that supply chain. So this as I talked about before is a big issue about cost and innovation meeting to form a great solution and a great product."
Good grief--is that how enterprise customers evaluate enterprise suppliers—by their PC business??
And analytics—I'm not sure I ever heard the former CEO talk about that, and how it could provide levels of customer value and differentiation far beyond what even the best infrastructure products could deliver. And I think he wouldn't touch it because IBM had taken such a strong position in analytics that HP and its former CEO would not be perceived as leaders.
Again, I think that's a pretty narrow and shallow perspective—the world's broadest infrastructure fleet is nice, but when you layer that in with services PLUS analytics PLUS printing and imaging leadership PLUS an emerging mobile story, that's pretty potent. But Hurd wouldn't do that, and I think part of the reason he wouldn't is because he would have to admit some level of parity with IBM, and that prospect seemed to gall him.
So instead of framing the company in terms of what customers would value most highly, he tended to portray it in terms where he felt he could claim clear superiority over IBM: infrastructure and PCs.
2) He didn't love HP's business. In Hurd's five years as CEO, HP's stock price doubled—that's impressive. It's revenue more than doubled—that's also impressive. And in just the last three years, he was paid more than $100 million--that, too, is impressive. But I always got the sense from Hurd that HP was fundamentally just a giant hunk of marble that he needed to pound and chisel into submission—and he clearly succeeded at that.
But did he love HP's business—its technology, its culture, its people, its passion, its customers, and its potential? I don't know—but if he did, he seemed, in the relatively few public comments he made, to hide that feeling quite well. We are not inspired by what we do not love, and while Hurd was able to deliver against aggressive financial metrics, I think what prevented him from generating equally strong results in his vision for the company was that he saw technological brilliance and innovation as tactical rather than strategic. Don't love what you might have to kill.
The Leadership HP Needs
Can you imagine HP's ex-CEO revving up a crowd of employees and customers by calling his products "insanely great?" It might not be fair to compare Hurd to Steve Jobs like that, but after five years of intensely frosty and technocratic leadership, HP needs someone who can express passionate engagement with HP's people and products and customers. EVP Robison is a master at that, as is executive vice president Tom Hogan and recently named software chief Bill Veghte and HP Labs senior VP Prith Banerjee and networking senior VP Marius Haas.
Yes, of course, the HP board needs to find a CEO who executes superbly and is relentlessly focused on customer value and shareholder value. But we're not talking here about some piddling mid-sized company whose better days are behind it and whose employees are mostly marking time—we're talking about a company with monthly revenue of $10 billion, and a superb and proud tradition of technical innovation, and with a significant level of respect and brand equity among CIOs and other customers.
At this point—and with the crazy mobile-social-driven future that all businesses face—HP needs a CEO whose passion matches that of the HP team.
HP needs a CEO who can absorb the big ideas from HP's leaders and global network of customers and employees and translate that into a strategic vision that transcends infrastructure and weaves this giant company's capabilities together and promises to customers innovation and insights and results that no one else on Earth can match.
HP needs a CEO who can quickly and gracefully inspire the HP team and its partners and its customers about the transformative power of business technology, and about how every company on the planet needs that power, and about how HP is unmatched in delivering that power.
HP needs a CEO who, rather than trying (and failing) to pretend that IBM doesn't exist, can animatedly and confidently articulate the challenges of the competitive landscape and put on the table a clear and compelling vision for why HP's approach is better than IBM's, better than Oracle's, better than Cisco's and EMC's and everybody else's.
HP's customers and employees are all perfectly willing—and probably more than a little eager—to forget all about the former CEO. The technology's there, the financials are there, the people are there, and Lord knows the market opportunities are there as well. All that's needed is a new leader willing to add into that mix the passion and the vision to make HP not just the biggest but also the best IT company in the world.
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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