Global CIO: HP CEO Apotheker Has Deep Expertise But Checkered History

HP is highlighting Leo Apotheker's experience but his ouster from SAP 8 months ago was marked by widespread customer unrest, product snafus, and awful morale among employees.
"Plattner and other SAP executives have had spectacular and long-term success with some of the world's largest companies, which have each invested at least many tens and often many hundreds of millions of dollars with SAP. And Plattner and SAP have every right to be enormously proud of those relationships and those outstanding achievements. But their myopic mistake has been to project the mindset of those top 100 accounts toward SAP across the wildly diverse universe of 90,000 SAP customers worldwide. Plattner said that at a conference with those top 100 customers, they all expressed nothing but unfettered joy and happiness at SAP's maintenance fees and quality. So SAP based its disastrous decision to announce significant maintenance hikes for all of its customers on the input from those 100. How could that happen? More important, how can SAP change the mindset and culture that allowed such narrow and amateurish thinking to prevail?"

That's the primary reason—but certainly supplemented by all the others I've mentioned and that are described in extensive detail in those two columns—why I'm scratching my head a bit over the HP board's decision. Let me turn that head-scratching into some specific questions:

  • How will Apotheker—at a company eight times larger than SAP was when he left it—avoid the same mistakes that weakened the company and got him fired?

  • How will someone who's spent his last 20 years in the world of enterprise applications project onto HP the vision to transform a company whose products consist primarily of hardware and include zero enterprise applications?

  • How will Apotheker prove himself capable of immersing himself in the needs and desires and requirements of his extremely demanding legions of global customers, and then use what he's learned to remake HP?

    I realize the guy hasn't even worked his first day yet, and that what I'm asking will require many months of work. But I also know that, over the past eight months, his replacements at SAP—McDermott and Snabe—have been leading and are continuing to lead a sweeping and end-to-end overhaul of how SAP develops products,how it interacts with customers, how it positions its products, how it defines and delivers value to its customers, and how it presents itself to the world.

    We also know that if Apotheker leans on his history in shaping the future of HP, then HP will be moving aggressively into the field of applications. And that the twin forces of market demand and HP's expansive engineering prowess will lead HP to optimize the performance of its vast line of hardware products with those likely additions to HP's software roster.

    And that means HP will be competing much more aggressively with its two primary rivals: its clear enemy, IBM, and its love-hate object, Oracle. You know—Larry Ellison and former HP CEO Mark Hurd.

    So it's fitting that in one of the comments attributed to Apotheker in the HP press release announcing his appointment, Apotheker says this: "As we move forward, HP will continue to be a valued partner with our customers as well as a fierce competitor."

    Truer words were never spoken, because the competition with Ellison and Hurd and IBM will bring new meaning to the word "fierce." But even before Apotheker fully commits himself to those wars without end, he will need to ensure himself, his colleagues, his customers and his partners that he's really got HP's house in order.

    Because based on his previous tenure as CEO of SAP, Leo Apotheker has much to prove.


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    GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

    To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

    For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
    or write to Bob at [email protected].

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