Monday, October 8, 2012

long hot summer

The news continues -- last week's low point for the year was a $14 stock, for a company with nearly $3 in annual earnings.  A multiple of 5???  Not much confidence in the future of this storied company, would you say?

And Meg, on-stage at an analyst's meeting in San Francisco, saying without enthusiasm that this company will take a very long time -- she quoted 2016 as the target -- to 'turn around'.  This followed by two weeks her New York pronouncement that HP will be 'entering' the smart phone business at some unspecified future date.

Lessee now -- haven't smart phones been out for awhile?  And Nokia is losing key execs at a healthy (or unhealthy) clip, while BlackBerries are about to become a summertime fruit again.  Consider this: HP sells more high-tech 'stuff' every quarter than any company in the world, except for Apple, who recently caught them.  But the iPhone itself, for the past two quarters, and certainly now with the new iPhone 5, sells more iPhones per quarter (revenue) than all of HP for all of its products and services.

So, yes, on the fifth anniversary of the iPhone introduction, HP's CEO says, "hey, maybe us too".  Big news.  Especially ironic since the Palm Pre was a better phone when HP intro'd it--they just lacked apps.  Seems like four years of app work might have been a smarter strategy.  And if that had been done, the WebOS backbone would have lived, and maybe even the abortted TouchPad would have been less traumatic.

Speaking of the TouchPad, it continues to draw the 2nd highest user raves of any tablet out there (courtesy of Argus Insights, a local customer opinion surveyor).  What if the trigger-happy Leo had let it live, and they'd indeed billed it as an enterprise tablet like it was designed to do?  The decision to go with Best Buy was ill-fated (most enterprises don't shop there for their IT shops).  No one yet knew that the Best Buy CEO had similar loin leanings as the ex-CEO of HP--cousins?

So, maybe HP will indeed be resurrected, more-or-less in 2016, and enthusiasm will reign again.  Hang in there...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Ray Lane at GSB

June 19 (gawd, where does the time go) Ray Lane came for a conversation with the CTO Forum, run by Basheer Janjua in conjunction with the Stanford Graduate Business School.  Basheer invited me to do two things -- pass out and sign the HP book to the 65 attendees (a lot of hand-cramps from the scribbles), and a chance to pose some questions from the 'head table' to Ray.

Lane did a very credible job in my book.  As the ex-leader of Oracle's business strategy, before he ran afoul of Larry Ellison's fabled temper, Ray has a long-time pedigree in the Valley.  As chairman now of HP, he has been variously visible and quiotable for the past couple of years, including the debacle around hiring and then firing Leo Apotheker, and replacing him with old friend Meg Whitman.

As readers of this long-running blog know, I've offered free form advice to and about HP leadership in recent years, including early observations on both Lane and Whitman.  Having now been in more than one meeting 'up close and personal', I can also say without reservation that they seem to me to be superb students of HP at this point, and working very hard AND very smartly on what I consider "the right issues".  Boy, I'll bet some of you don't expect me to be saying that! 

So, here it is, unequivicably.   HP is in better hands right now than anytime since John Young in terms of strategic understanding and focused direction.  No one will ever top Lew Platt for "HP WAY" kinds of things, but this team seems much more in tune with the historic understanding of the dignity and worth of individuals than all but Lew and the founders, may they all rest in peace.

So, will the stock price recover?  Will HP once again be the ascendant company in the Valley?  Will they ever again create a product or service that the world says "WOW!"?  And of course the answer must be muted.  Camelot never returned to its former glory once Geneviere and Lancelot betrayed King Arthur; the industry is too diverse and complex logically to expect any company to lead as HP once did (and Apple and Google do today).  But yes, the underlying fundamentals at HP are sound, and the stock price will again reflect the sensible value of the company, and the errant ways of the leadership foibles may well be behind us.  Personal opinion. 

Wouldn't it be nice, though, to imagine just one blockbuster product again?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bandler got it right

Wow!  Check it out.  We finally have a great 'insider' story, thanks to an intrepid reporter, James Bandler of Fortune, in the May 21, 2012 (yes, Virginia, the magazine stand date bears no resemblance to when the story emerges) Fortune, entitled "How HP lost its way".

Bandler interviewed seventy key folk in lots of arenas, and got some incredible material into the story.  Leo is 'the fall guy', but he gets exonerated more than many might expect.  Ray Lane comes off poorly in this account, while Cathie Lesjak (who usually stays behind the curtain) exhibits more character and traditional HP ethics than anyone else described.

The Lane and Hurd descriptions are not too different than the Valley already knew, but the Board infighting makes the drama around Carly / Hewlett or Patti Dunn / Tom Perkins seem almost tame. 

One of the more insightful 'signals' that Bandler aptly reports is the 'razorwire compound' for the executive parking lot, which stunned Meg Whitman the day she first drove to it (and had it torn down to her credit).  Bandler didn't mention that Hurd probably felt he needed the security since at NCR, he had repeatedly had his tires slashed by seething employees.  Bandler did report the missing 85,000 chairs (that is right -- EIGHTY-FIVE THOUSAND chairs) that Hurd failed to buy for the new EDS team, and he also drew a wonderful portrait of the spiders from broken ceiling tile, and the mice scampering about inside HP buildings.  A cartoon of the 'lights out at 6pm' order at HP Fort Collins graced the article.

The article, at least the piece that I've seen so far, fails to describe much of the technology insights or the awful infighting around the disastrous TouchPad launch, or the idiotic exorbitant purchase of Autonomy, but it does give a clear picture of the disarray at the Board and executive level during these episodes.

When finished, the article certainly does a damning indictment of HP's current situation, ironic since it appears the same day that Jeremy Owens at the San Jose Mercury-News noted that HP regained its spot in the Fortune 10 (on revenue) while Apple was only 17th.   This is one of those transitory things, though, since the past two quarters show Apple nearly one-third larger than HP, and its momentum is up while HP's is ... ummn, "down".

Saturday, May 5, 2012

HP memories vs reality today

Marc Mislanghe has been busy compiling memoirs of oldtimer HP types at   New entries include Hank Taylor, Jim Hall, Art Fong, John Minck, and myself -- a small panoply of perspectives from yesteryear.  You might say, "WHO CARES?"

The answer could very well be -- "well, it seems like a thousand people a day care" to judge from the Google Analytics.  Not bad for an obscure website from a southern Frenchman near Birrritz, France who has been collecting HP instruments and computers for a decade "just 'cuz he loves 'em"

Each of these memoirs offers a glimpse inside a company that valued initiative and innovation at every job, every level of the company.  They speak volumes to the idea that "bottoms-up" innovation works, and mostly works better than leadership at the top because, as Packard insisted, "those closest to the problem are the best ones to see a solution to it."

I don't have a favorite in the set, but I will especially mention Taylor's memoir, just because it focuses on innovation in Corporate Infrastructure, rather than products or field sales or marketing -- and such contributions are both harder to see and more systemic -- hence very seldom do they get mentioned.  Ray Price and I found so much of this that we devoted a chapter -- "Secret Sauce" -- to it in our book HP Phenomenon.  Hank does a first-rate job of describing this in multiple efforts at HP.

Monday, March 5, 2012

a long time away from this blog

Holy mackerel... six months of no entries? Kind of a Rip Van Winkle time?

Actually, a fascinating time. Leo A got the boot, and in the enthusiasm and excitement I managed to get more air time than I needed, explaining my hoary views about Meg Whitman's possible candidacy (a day before she was selected.... sigh). Channel 7, KGO-TV, plus a few national squibs, somewhat indelible and affronting.

So, naturally when I gave a keynote talk to the annual HP Sales Force in Las Vegas in November, and she gave the talk after mine, we had a chance to meet, and I had a chance to apologize for intemperate remarks. Delicate moment, as they say....

To Meg's credit, she was gracious and disarming, offering that she'd heard lots worse from many others (doubtless on the political stump). I ate a little crow in front of her, and offered her a book, which she accepted and later sent me a thoughtful note.

The facts are, that I liked what she said, and more importantly, how she said it. And the word out of HP today is that she is building some trust again. That is different than shareholder value, which ostensibly is why we've changed so much (can you believe seven CEO's in five years, or is it just five in seven years?).

Leo A also corresponded mid-winter, and we met. Lots to discuss, but not lots to write, at least not now. The biggest take-away, besides the fiasco re the TouchPad and the PC 'decision' was his shock at the decrepit state of HP plant and facility when he arrived. He said Hurd had unscrewed the last working lightbulb to save costs.

Today, another signal... A longtime HP friend forwarded a paper, The Building of Employee Distrust: a Case Study of HP from 1995-2010, done by Kimberly Elsbach at UC Davis Biz School, a colleague from Imperial College in the UK, and Amy Stroud of HP. The story is that Meg saw the paper, and is circulating it. Right there is a shift of monumental proportions!

The paper will be given at the Organizational Dynamics conference in mid-summer. See