Monday, January 24, 2011

what is the early verdict

So, what is the news out of HP re Apotheker, now that we have a couple of months?

First, he was successful in fending off the subpoenas from Larry and team re the SAP / Oracle mess, so that's a plus. He really wasn't particularly in hiding, working daily from his office at HP headquarters during those first harassing weeks.

Second, he reportedly re-instated some of the salary cuts that draconian Hurd instituted to boost profits.

Third, he reportedly re-instated some of the R and D cuts that ...

Fourth, he announced a few personnel changes, including a shift in Corp Mktg director, and Corp Communications director. These did not play quite as well as points two and three; they instead generated some top-level angst about "SAP folk coming in"

Fifth, he and Ray Lane announced a sizable Board shuffle -- adding a couple of high-tech veterans, and more international perspective.

Sixth, the rumor mill swirls, as the Wall Street Journal circulated a story that HP immediately disclaimed, re Executive shuffle.

Certainly, the announced dividend and statement that the quarter is "on track" were affirming, and the stock price is back to where it was before Hurd's unexpected departure, but we'll know more by Feb 22 or so how HP is faring in fact in the market.

The followup blogs on the new Board, especially on the two women ex-CEOs, have not been very charitable, most noting that each had relatively undistinguished records -- but then, too, it has been a rough time for 'standard procedure'. That is maybe the bigger rap -- "HP has long since lost its leadership mantle, and this new Board shows nothing different in that regard."

Let's hope instead that we're about to see some further positive news

much ado last week for the HP Board

New stories around the HP circuit. First, the Board is being recrafted. Four members are stepping down in the March re-election, kind of unheard of since Packard cleansed the Board in 1992. Joel Hyatt, John Joyce, Robert Ryan, and Lucille Salhany are all declining to stand for re-election; two of them reportedly for backing Mark Hurd 'too long' in the acrimonious debate about his stewardship and eventual resignation.

The new members include the by-now well-known Meg Whitman, a nearly as well-known Pat Russo, and Gary Reiner, Dominique Senequier, and Shumeet Banerji. The pedigrees read well, certainly in terms of worldly connections and high accomplishment. But so did the last group, in the main.

What makes for a great Board Member? And what distinguishes great boards?

Unfortunately, it seems hard to get very balanced opinion, even from avowed and acknowledged pundits. For example, one of the most celebrated (certainly in terms of proferred quotes) Corporate Governance experts, Charles Elson at the Univ of Delaware is Director of the John Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance there, opined Friday last week that "four directors going out at once is unusual. Boards should not have this much drama.... They are all quite respected. The question is why?"

Elson knows better. He even said better last summer. The strongest of course then was Joe Nocera with the New York Times, who wrote: "it ginned up a tabloid-ready scandal that only serves to bring shame, once again, on the HP Board.... The last time the HP Board did something shameful ... was the famous 'pretexting' scandal...."

But Apple's board consisted of great luminaries, from the tech industry. Eric Schmidt and Bill Campbell, for example, and Jerome York and Al Gore from the national scene. And they were, and still are, uniformly assailed for a variety of sins, even as the company has shown spectacular performance. But they haven't ousted their leader.

HP, recall, under Hurd showed great performance improvement, if only for a time. Cheating the future almost always helps the present. So, now we have change, at the Board level. One step at a time....