HP CEO Whitman’s Interesting PC and Printer Executive Move

    Meg Whitman replaced Todd Bradley as the head of the PC unit with Dion Weisler this week. This is actually a very smart move. Often one of the first things a new CEO does is build a team that is loyal to him or her, and it is actually considered a best practice. However, this can result in too much disruption at once, which could complicate what is already a complicated turnaround effort. Whitman did simplify her reporting structure by consolidating PCs and Printers under Todd Bradley, but given that he was the named successor to Mark Hurd, a CEO who had overstayed his welcome at HP and nearly gutted the company, this seemed an unusual move.

    Suddenly, this all makes sense. Shortly after taking over HP, Whitman had hired Weisler, a strong executive with experience from Acer and Lenovo, two companies that had been performing better than the market while he was there, and this seasoned exec is now running the PC and Printer groups.    

    Let’s talk about Whitman’s move and how it reflects on HP and best practices.

    CEO 101

    Earlier this week, I wrote about how a good CEO is selected, using Cloudera’s excellent hire of Tom Reilly as an example. When a new CEO steps into an existing company, he or she has a series of initial problems to overcome. The CEO has to quickly discover the true strengths and weaknesses of the company, assure the customers and investors, and make sure folks will follow their lead. Without these founding elements in place, the CEO won’t keep the job long enough to have an impact. A turnaround CEO has one massive problem: Execute a process that takes up to seven years to complete, when people expect results in as little as 18 months.

    This is why there are really so few good turnaround CEOs. It often seems like the really smart ones know better than to take on this nearly impossible task. Even Steve Jobs, who was a micro-manager, handpicked his executives to make sure that when he said jump, they not only said “how high,” but actually had a chance to reach the incredible heights he demanded.

    Meg Whitman, who brought Dion Weisler into HP shortly after she joined, appears to be following that practice in her choice.

    Ideal PC Lead

    I’m going to focus on the PC side because Printing would be a stretch for anyone, given that only HP has held on to a significant printing function (so finding anyone that could do both is currently an impossible task outside of HP). Generally, the ideal candidate would have successful experience in relevant areas and historical results that exceeded HP’s own.

    Weisler was with Acer during its rapid growth stage, while it was scaring the rest of the PC industry and had most believing it couldn’t be stopped. He was at Lenovo when that company eclipsed Acer and became the scariest PC company in market. He doesn’t have CEO experience, but then this isn’t a CEO job. It is less likely, as a result, that he’ll be looking for creative ways to replace Whitman.

    In addition, HP has a very unique and relatively hostile environment, because of all of the executive changes and layoffs. The ideal candidate would need to understand the unique nature of this both to survive and help fix this pronounced problem. Weisler has been at HP long enough to understand the culture. In learning how to survive it, he likely has a pretty good idea how to fix it.

    Printing will be stretch for him, but then it would be for anyone. At least he has been dealing with this segment while he was working at HP. In short, he’ll be far more expert than anyone with a PC background coming from the outside.

    Finally, Whitman has made a huge deal about hiring from the inside for jobs like this. He has been in HP long enough to be considered an inside hire. This is important for loyalty; had she just placed him in the role when she’d first hired him, her limited ability to hold onto other top executives would have been significantly weakened.

    In short, Weisler was the best candidate.

    Wrapping Up: Smart for Whitman, Smart for HP

    The choice of Weisler was a good one. He supports Whitman’s promise to largely hire from the inside but brings the outside skills that HP desperately needs to improve the performance of the PC unit. He is more experienced in printers than any external PC executive is likely to be and any printer executive likely couldn’t spell “PC,” making a hire from that market ill advised. He is known to be a good team player and team builder, both of which HP needs desperately in this role. The change was handled elegantly so it didn’t appear to be the result of a scandal or other internal problem. HP tends to draw scandals like a flame draws moths, and the extra care to make sure this didn’t look like one was in evidence and critically needed.

    This makes HP stronger and will likely be appreciated by everyone except HP’s competitors, and that alone suggests it was a good move.

    Rob Enderle
    Rob Enderle
    As President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, Rob provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market, target customer needs, create new business opportunities, anticipate technology changes, select vendors and products, and practice zero dollar marketing. For over 20 years Rob has worked for and with companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, USAA, Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel, Credit Suisse First Boston, ROLM, and Siemens.

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