Saturday, May 21, 2011

who IS in charge?

Tiernan Ray has a provocative column today in Barron's, posing the question of who is really running HP today. Here's some of his heavy hitting: "WHAT I HEARD LAST WEEK, FROM SOURCES who would rather remain nameless, is that the board of heavy hitters think they know the strategy better than Apotheker and that there have been differences of personal style, if you will, between Apotheker and some members of the board."

"What might that mean? If two powerful venture capitalists, Lane and Andreessen, head up the board's technology vision, it's conceivable, some sources mused, that both individuals could be telling Apotheker, in effect, how he should spend investors' money, rather than that decision coming from Apotheker himself."

Ray goes further, mentioning Meg Whitman, one of the more interesting and arrogant CEOs in recent memory, renowned for her spotless record (actually spotty is a much better word, if you consider that the EBay board couldn't wait to undo her strategy when they helped her deplane. Then we all got to witness her maladroit run for Governor in a state which has gone completely soap opera).

Without getting deep into this discussion, which will doubtless unfold over the next few months, it bespeaks an interesting conundrum for Apotheker that link to the obvious issues inherited from the last fifteen years of CEOs from Platt to Firina and Hurd gutting R and D and contribution from "the bottom"

Apotheker was bold this week, proclaiming that he would accept shareholder dismay while he works to build the longer-term business, especially in the weakened services side. Shareholders heard him, punishing the stock price by 14% from ten days ago. Since the new estimates are that 45% of NYSE stock transactions are now held for nanoseconds in trading programs rather than months or years by traditional investors, this is not at all surprising. And HP stock increasingly, as with most on the Big Board, is held in institutional form, subject to the same slavish behavior of any herd mentality.

So, he's on a short string, vindicating the pundits and shareholders who were incensed when the draconian last guy (what was his name again?) ran things.

Must be a pretty hot seat.

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