I’ve often found it fascinating that women who run companies seem to avoid promoting other women to top spots. HP is clearly breaking that trend by quietly promoting Bethany Mayer to what may be the most powerful and influential spot in HP, short of CEO Meg Whitman’s. Mayer is now the head of Network Functions Virtualization, which sounds kind of boring until you read the small print that says this group brings together HP’s Cloud, Enterprise Services and Enterprise Groups.
Coverage on this hasn’t been extensive, but I’ve known Mayer for some time now and I can attest personally to her high competence and capability. She truly is one of the best employees at HP, or anyplace, for that matter.
Importance of the Cloud
Five major trends are cutting through the technology market at the moment and HP is involved in three of them to some degree. These five areas are artificial intelligence (led largely by IBM and Google), 3D printing (where Dell has taken an early lead but HP is expected to enter), wearable computers (Samsung is taking the lead at the moment), robotics (Google has moved into the lead), and what we call “the cloud.” HP actually had one of the first viable wearable computers but Meg Whitman’s predecessor killed it. It should lead in 3D printers and may still but has yet to announce, and it doesn’t have anything in the AI space or robotics space yet. The only area where HP has a solid position is the cloud effort but, up until now, that effort has appeared somewhat disjointed and unfocused.
Granted, IBM seemed unfocused too until Amazon slapped it upside the head, stealing a major government contract, but the names to watch in the cloud, at least so far, are Google, Microsoft, and perhaps the scariest of all, Amazon. What makes Amazon scary is that it is still relatively young and it schooled IBM, which gave everyone pause and forced IBM into a massive restructuring in order to respond.
So, of five major opportunities, HP had a shot at three, might be able to play in two in some major way, but is only really playing in one. In a war, and the technology vendors are at war, you fight with the weapons you have. In this group, the only one HP has is “the cloud.” This means this effort is incredibly important to Whitman, which is likely why she chose Mayer for it.
Mayer, with little real fanfare, had been leading HP’s battle against Cisco. This battle began when Cisco broke the decades-long truce and decided to go into servers, forcing HP to take its networking gear, which was fortunately competitive, off the back burner and use it strategically against Cisco. With far fewer resources and working for a company that seemed unable to keep a CEO or a board for very long, Mayer repeatedly schooled Cisco and a good portion of Cisco’s flagging financials, and HP’s incredible networking success (given that this group was under-funded for years) was due to Mayer’s passion and unwavering focus.
Cisco was forced to cut back on consumer-based efforts catastrophically, and effectively circle the wagons to prevent HP inroads, but HP’s success against Cisco was largely unabated. Unfortunately, much of this was hidden within HP’s turnaround, but networking, which should have been a huge problem given how badly it was treated for years, turned out to be one of HP’s few clear assets. That is likely why Mayer was given the nod to run the new unit.
Wrapping Up: Capability, Passion, Focus
If I were to distill what separates a successful top executive from one that is unsuccessful, I’d say it comes down to three things: capability (core education/skills/industry knowledge/leadership), passion (the drive to do what it takes to get the job done), and focus (the ability to ignore distractions). Mayer has demonstrated, in a company that has been anything but stable, the capability, passion and drive to accomplish amazing things. Whitman made an excellent choice moving her up.