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2/23/2011
06:14 PM
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: HP CEO Apotheker Is Betting The Farm

Leo Apotheker's silence has raised lots of uncertainty about HP, but he says a March 14 event will make everything clear. He'd better be right.

HP's new CEO, Leo Apotheker, has said he will make the company's products cooler than Apple's.

HP's new CEO has said the company's future is centered on the cloud and connectivity.

HP's new CEO has said the problems with slumping PC sales and IT services have been addressed and will not recur.

HP's new CEO has said the company is primed for growth.

And HP's CEO has said that on March 14th, he will roll out his grand vision for HP.

In aggregate, what Apotheker's said hasn't been bad—it's mostly been fluffy and airy and utterly lacking in specifics while he toured the globe to speak with customers and employees. But not bad.

Rather, it's what Apotheker hasn't said that is cause for concern about the world's biggest IT company, whose first-quarter revenue miss triggered an aggressive sell-off of HP stock, which fell more than 10% as investors showed they don't know exactly what to make of the company.

Which brings us to this big March 14th "strategy summit," at which Apotheker will apparently lay it all out.

I have no doubt that HP will put on a very professional and engaging event. But that aside, Apotheker's presentation had better be not just good, but astonishingly good—riveting, visionary, convincing, detailed, and brimming with conviction. In short, all of the qualities that have been lacking from HP over the 7+ months that will have passed since it ousted former CEO Mark Hurd in August of last year.

(For extensive analyses of HP and its strategy, please check out our "Recommended Reading" list at the end of this column.)

In the self-created vacuum, others have stepped up to point out what they feel are HP's shortcomings:

IBM CEO Sam Palmisano said the HP made a big mistake by not investing enough in R&D over the past several years, and the resulting lack of innovative products is the result.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said HP's high-end systems are slow and brittle and simply unable to meet customers' needs, and that Oracle is going to very specifically "go after" HP in the marketplace.

Dell's turning up the heat in the corporate PC marketplace, and Lenovo's going to try to exploit the consumer-PC softness that was a big problem for HP last quarter.

Even HP's recent acquisition of Vertica, which gives the company a foothold in the analytics and Big Data sectors, has raised more questions than it answers since Vertica is only a portion of what HP needs to become a legitimate broad-based player in that very hot market.

And in Tuesday's earnings call, Apotheker seemed unwilling or unable to reply to skeptical questions from analysts. That is absolutely, positively Apotheker's right—he's free to answer (or not answer) analysts' questions any way he wants.

But in return, those analysts are left with the same concerns they had before, the same vagueness about who HP is and what it intends to become. Here area few telling examples:

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