Overall she is behaving as a Venture Capitalist with a new investment in a complex company should. Learning what she needs to know about the business, figuring out who she can and can’t trust. And then I expect her, once her views are set, to take decisive action to fix what is broken and to not break what isn’t. This last part is conjecture but her start looks promising.
HP has three obvious problems that have troubled Meg’s predecessors. The biggest is a tendency to leak information that should remain within the company. This has cost one board its job, landed the executive team in a Congressional investigation, created much of the drama surrounding it CEOs and shortened their apparent tenure.
If she doesn’t find a way to get HP to speak with one voice she will likely fail. Seeing her fix this, as Jobs did at Apple, or as we did when I was at IBM with newly acquired companies, would be the first milestone.
The second milestone is the identification and elimination of executives who can’t be trusted. Carly Fiorina was largely shot from inside the company, partially due to the fact she had alienated much of her senior staff. However Leo Apotheker’s problems were certainly exacerbated by what appeared to be an internal struggle for his job, both before and after he got it, initially souring the well and eventually making him look weak. Forming a team Whitman can trust will be milestone number two.
The third Milestone is the statement of an HP vision. This comes out of the collective wisdom from the IBM leadership event that was held in New York recently. At that event they defined what made a good leader and the speakers ranged from heads of state to heads of major corporations like Boeing and Bristol Myers. All seemed to agree that Vision was one of the most important aspects of a leader and either Whitman or Ray Lane will need to state one that encompasses HP.
In HP I hear things that remind me a lot of the IBM of the 1980s, which almost failed while I was there. That there are more people telling you why you can’t do something than there are folks helping you do it. That the left hand rarely knows what the right hand is doing, and that there is the right way to do something and there is the HP way – and they are often not the same way.
HP’s problems are largely the result of a series of CEOs who, for whatever reason, didn’t do their jobs. A company that was about results that came to be more about wasteful process. I think there is a good chance that Meg Whitman can fix these problems, her start is promising, but it will be the finish that will count.
Stay tuned. This will either be an incredible success story or another deep disappointment. I am sure that Whitman knows that this effort will define the rest of her life and her memory; as a result my belief is she will do what it takes to make HP strong again. Her future is tied to HP’s now.