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HP's Leo Apotheker Talks Turkey (And Some Trash)

The new CEO wants us to forget the company’s recent tumultuous affairs and is working on crystalizing the message behind "The HP Way 2.0." View the video interview.

Leo Apotheker, Hewlett-Packard's CEO since November, thinks his company is doing just fine. Apparently one of its biggest challenges is helping its customers buy even more from HP, and on Apotheker's recent globe trots, those customers expressed "warmth" and "sympathy," two characteristics he tried to show during a one-on-one chat this week.

By some measures, he succeeded. He was quick to poke fun, sometimes even at himself (sometimes at us, which we didn't appreciate so much). But he was aloof when it came to answering questions about HP customer priorities, and combative when I referred to the company's past missteps, and the challenges it will face with its newly announced cloud platform, and in software.

(See Parts 1- 4 of our interview in the videos embedded below.)

Apotheker's right, though: The Fortune 10 technology behemoth is doing just fine, and he certainly doesn't have to apologize for HP's past, as if a $130 billion company needs to apologize for its financial performance or, for that matter, count on its customers to sympathize.

The real question is whether "fine" is acceptable. With Apple, a company Apotheker has mentioned, with some degree of aspiration, customers express desire. With IBM, the closest thing right now to HP, though a $100 billion company with nearly twice HP’s market cap, customers can't be fired. With HP,...?

One leader isn't going to provide that answer, Apotheker seemed to say. And "just spending money won't help," he added. He suggested that what's required is a rejuvenation of a culture once defined by customer-centric innovation and risk-taking— an "HP Way 2.0." Only time will tell if Apotheker can lead the company there, but that inspiration will be necessary if HP intends not to blend into the IT fabric.

Truth is, I expected Apotheker to be brutally honest about HP's place among the elite technology companies, about customer pain points, about his competitors' licentious attacks. He wasn't. He did take a shot or two at Oracle and IBM and, in turn, CEOs Larry Ellison and Sam Palmisano (which we enjoyed) and at InformationWeek (which we didn't). But mostly he was coy, perhaps worn out by the incessant questions about how suited he is to run such a large, complicated technology company after being removed from another large, complicated technology company (SAP).

If nothing else, he was passionate, pointing out HP's dominance in servers, noting that its equipment and software fuel the infrastructure of many cloud environments already, offering that his knowledge of the data intelligence and broader software market will serve the company well, and claiming that HP's WebOS is, by far, the superior end user operating system and will ultimately win, especially given the relative infancy of the mobile industry.

Apotheker, a German national who was residing in France, said he's enjoying living in America, a place where you're even allowed to make mistakes. We agreed that this allowance benefits us all.

And great achievement often helps us forget.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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