Friday, April 12, 2013

Tough BBC interview for Meg

Shana Lynch noted mid-day in yesterday's Silicon Valley Business Journal that the BBC interview Wednesday with Meg Whitman focused more on the pecadillos and Board machinations than on substantive matters.  I watched the interview, and was struck by the calm but penetrating manner of the interviewer (whose name I did not catch).  He persisted on two questions -- first, for those in England, the Autonomy 'deal' and the choice by HP to 'try it in public', and second, "HP is nowhere in mobile"

Meg comported herself well, in terms of camera presence, but the answers might surprise us here in the States a bit.  To a direct question about "okay, you've been there eighteen months with NO PROGRESS.  What is going on?" she replied, "On the contrary, we've made great progress getting the people of the company re-engaged in believing in the company and its direction.  And the people are the most important asset -- if they're not believing, it's really tough.  And we have the most coherent product line-up -- hardware, software and services -- that we've had in a decade."  Powerful words, and from what I'm hearing (throughout elements of the company), some truth in that set of assertions.

On the two points, though, that were the tough part of the interview:

First, re Autonomy and taking the story public, she said "we have no choice in America -- if there is a write-down, we have to take the facts and the reasons public".  The interviewer pursued this, arguing that, Yes, HP overpaid compared to every other company's evaluation at the time (which I think is substantially correct), but NO, you don't have to blame it all on improprieties in accounting.  Meg looked uncomfortable, but stayed true to the message.  The surprise for me was she went on to say that this is a very important technology (with which I agree), that the Autonomy employees still with HP are working very hard to make it more capable, that it will matter a lot to HP, and she ended with this quote: "It is almost a magical technology" (which, truth be told, has to be the perspective for most lay people for so many of our computer-based capabilities such as search, facial recognition, inference-engine decisions).  But text analytics -- almost magical?  Whew, a bit over the top in my view

Second, re mobile devices, Meg bristled a bit, and said, first of all, we're a factor now in multi-purpose laptop/tablets (e.g. the top comes off and it becomes a tablet -- see my blog last week re the Ultra Envy II), and 'we're a factor in tablets with our new Android Slate 7 (I must have missed the market splash on this one somehow).  But the new news is that "while we're intent on having a smart phone, we haven't yet figured out how to do that without being a 'me-too' player" which contradicts her statements a few weeks ago at the SF analyst briefings.  Good for her for 'fessing up, and great to hear that she doesn't intend to play 'me-too' just to be 'in the space'.

Nothing about HP Moonshot, which is perhaps curious except that the interviewer was focused elsewhere.  By comparison, it's hard for a General Motors executive to point to jet engines when the interviewer is saying 'your cars suck'.  The purpose for the interview, acc. to HP sources and Lynch's story, was to launch Moonshot in the UK.  So much for the plan...

Maybe I'm just an eternal optimist, but I think this company HP is starting to show signs of life.

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