Dear Ray: Forgive my meddling at this critical time for your company, but since we're both Pittsburgh guys of approximately the same vintage, I thought I might share a couple of quick thoughts about HP and what it's been through the past few months and, more important, where the company is headed.
Your recent decision to air some very bitter and very public accusations at former HP CEO Mark Hurd came as a bit of a shock, and they reminded me of a hard lesson I was taught many years ago when my pigheadedness was in full bloom and wisdom for me was a scarce commodity. I thought I was doing a pretty good job, coming up with some new ideas and firing up the troops and vanquishing enemies both real and imagined, but my boss didn't quite see it that way.
He said that while it's great to be a warrior, it's terribly counterproductive to engage in a battle and win the battle, only to then feel compelled to go back across the silent battlefield and stab all your enemies again. And he told me that if I didn't learn how to focus on what matters—tomorrow's battles, not yesterday's—then my career would be taking some turns that I would surely not enjoy.
So when you said in your letter to the New York Times that Hurd had "violated the trust of the board by repeatedly lying to them in the course of an investigation into his conduct" and that Hurd had "violated numerous elements of HP's Standards of Business Conduct" and "demonstrated a serious lack of integrity and judgment," it must have felt pretty good to blow off that steam, particularly coming as it did on the heels of some blistering media attacks on the new HP CEO, Leo Apotheker, who joined the company as you did less than a month ago. (Read all about it at Global CIO: In Oracle Trial, HP Might Pay Higher Price Than SAP.)
While it's a bit hard to know precisely what your rationale was for hitting "send" after you'd written that harsh letter, the common interpretation is that you were tired of seeing HP's new CEO criticized, you were tired of seeing the HP board derided and castigated in the media, you were tired of seeing that great $130-billion company kicked around like some two-bit loser, and you were probably really tired of seeing the serrated-knife comments wielded by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison at both the HP board and at Apotheker. (And by the way, I've got a lot more thoughts on all of this in the "Recommended Reading" list at the end of this column.)
In theory, fair enough—there comes a time when each of us says enough is enough, and it's time for a response. But that's where the problem comes in, Ray, because while you apparently felt compelled to respond, your counterpunches were all aimed at the wrong target.
For you and the rest of the board and for all of HP, Mark Hurd is yesterday's enemy. Mark Hurd is yesterday's problem. Mark Hurd is yesterday's distraction. When he was ousted by HP, the headline over my column conveyed my sense of what HP needed to do with regard to its former CEO: Global CIO: Burying Mark Hurd: HP And Its Future.
By deciding to use one of your first high-profile engagements as HP chairman to demonize someone who left your company 10 weeks ago, you dredged up, once more, the muck HP had been trying to wash away in naming a new CEO and emphatically telling investors that the company will leverage its great past into an even better future.
You revitalized all the cutting barbs made by Ellison and analysts and Jack Welch, and even those made by the New York Times columnist who "didn't know" that his own fiancee's law firm represents Oracle and Ellison in next month's trial with SAP, in which Apotheker will very reluctantly play a high-profile role.
But you've always been a man of action, Ray, from your days at Oracle through your recent role as a leading venture capitalist and now as HP's chairman—so it's not a surprise you've come out swinging. But it's time to stop aiming your punches at Mark Hurd and his final days at HP because all of that is irrelevant to HP's future. Maybe they're not irrelevant to you personally, but that's exactly what they are with regard to the company's strategy, its customers, its employees, its shareholders, and its future prospects in what is promising to become a savagely competitive industry.
If I might suggest, Ray, here are a few things to which you should be devoting your considerable skills, talents, insights, and energy (and please note that Mark Hurd is not on this list):
1) CEO Leo Apotheker. You say Apotheker is the perfect guy for HP. That's great—let's hear why, in Apotheker's own words. Let's hear about HP's new strategy that Apotheker will lead and execute. Let's hear how Apotheker will resolve HP's gaps in software, how he'll reconcile its split personality wrought by offering everything from data centers to PCs, and how he will define a unique and customer-centric value proposition for HP.
2) HP and Oracle. The long-time and lucrative HP alliance with Oracle: can it survive the thunderbolts you've tossed at Hurd? I know, I know, Ellison started the whole thing by calling Apotheker a failure whose company engaged in industrial espionage against Oracle—but you've got to push all that name-calling out of your head and instead determine whether HP is better off with Oracle as an uneasy partner that's also a part-time competitor, or with Oracle as a fully committed competitor. Can you live with Larry Ellison? Can Apotheker live with Ellison? What's Apotheker have to say about that? More important, what do you--the guy who signs Apotheker's checks—have to say about it?
3) What about IBM? It's stock price is at an all-time high, it is superbly positioned in growth markets by geography and by emerging technology (analytics, cloud computing, optimized systems), and with Smarter Planet it's got an overarching market position to which CEOs and CIOs can readily relate. How does HP stack up against IBM? What changes do you and the board and Apotheker intend to make to improve that matchup? If you want to lay some knuckle sandwiches on somebody, Ray, IBM is the big kid with his eye on your lunch.
4) What about SAP? You guys have made beautiful music in the past, and even though your alliance with Oracle is much broader and more sweeping (100,000 shared customers with Oracle versus about 20,000 shared customers with SAP), SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott has stated unequivocally and enthusiastically that Apotheker's arrival will lead to a deepening of the HP-SAP partnership. Given the rather raw feelings between Apotheker and Ellison, and between you and Hurd, is it time to commit more vigorously to pairing up with SAP to do things together that neither of you could do individually?
5) Your customers. Ray, I've got to ask this question: when you wrote that letter tarring Hurd as a liar lacking proper integrity and judgment, how did you think HP's customers would take that? If I'm the CEO or CIO at one of your big energy clients or movie clients or life-sciences clients, do you expect that your comments will make me feel better or worse toward HP? More inclined to spend more money with HP, or less inclined to do so? You know IBM's salespeople are swarming those accounts now even more aggressively than before, using your own words to say that HP's current leadership is in disarray and that for the last five years its CEO was not a great guy. How do you turn around this simmering impression that your letter has pushed toward the boiling point?
Well, Ray, I could go on (other competitors, the PC thing, optimized systems, mobility, etc.), but you've got some big fish to fry (p.s.—and Mark Hurd is not one of them) so I'll sign off here and leave you with this thought: HP's 300,000 people—smart, committed, innovative and passionate—no doubt have some interest in the company's past, but their overwhelming interest is in the company's future. And that's where yours needs to be as well.
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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