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Meg Whitman named new Hewlett-Packard chief executive

Former eBay CEO and California governor candidate replaces Léo Apotheker, who lasted just 11 months in the job

Léo Apotheker has been fired as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard and replaced with Meg Whitman, the technology firm has announced.

Following a board meeting, Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay and candidate for California governor, was confirmed as the replacement for Apotheker, who has been at the helm at Hewlett-Packard for only 11 months.

Ray Lane, who has moved from non-executive chairman to executive chairman of HP’s board, said: “We are at a critical moment and we need renewed leadership to successfully implement our strategy and take advantage of the market opportunities ahead.”

Referring to Apotheker, Lane said the board believes “the job of the HP CEO now requires additional attributes”.

The board also plans to appoint an independent director.

The management shake-up represents yet another turnaround strategy at one of Silicon Valley’s oldest – but most publicly dysfunctional – firms. Since joining HP in November, Apotheker’s strategic decisions had been drastic, and did little to inspire confidence. HP’s stock fell nearly 50% during his time at the helm. It dropped about 5% on Thursday.

Hewlett-Packard’s board said it would not change its strategy to focus more on services than making computers – a change of direction designed by Apotheker.

Wall Street should react favourably to a new leader, even if it would be HP’s third in six years, after Carly Fiorina (fired February 2005) and Mark Hurd (fired August 2010).

But not all analysts were convinced. Although Whitman, 55, grew eBay from a 30-strong company with m revenues to one with 15,000 people and almost bn revenues, she also oversaw the ineffective .8bn purchase of Skype, and left in 2008. Her strengths are consumer-facing, not in the enterprise.

Carter Lusher, chief analyst at Ovum, said: “Whitman would do little for the confidence of HP’s enterprise customers. Whitman’s expertise lies primarily in the consumer market, and an interim leader will just prolong the sense of uncertainty.”

Apotheker, who joined from the customer management software company SAP in early November, was unable to even turn to his employees for support: his approval rating among them was just 25%, according to the recruitment site Glassdoor.

That figure is down from 58% a month ago; but a month ago Apotheker had not decided to shut down HP’s TouchPad tablet business at a cost of hundreds of millions, spin off its revenue-generating PC business into a separate company, and turn HP – revered in Silicon Valley for decades as a company that invented hardware such as the inkjet printer – into a services-based business to compete with IBM. The purchase of the UK search technology company Autonomy would be part of that transformation.

Apotheker’s plan made financial sense. HP is a huge company, with more than 320,000 staff, annual revenues of 0bn (£78bn) – mainly from large “enterprise” customers – and profits of about .5bn. It has four main divisions: Services; Storage & Networking; Personal Systems Group; and Imaging & Printing. Of those, PSG, which is the world’s largest supplier of PCs, is the biggest by revenue – but its 6% profit margin is the lowest within the company by some way.

The Guardian’s own analysis shows that if the PSG division could be spun off without harming other divisions, HP’s overall profitability would rise from 7.7% to 12%. That should delight investors. Yet it hasn’t.

Partly it is the abrupt chopping and changing: the TouchPad was killed after just 48 days on sale, intended to ride the Apple iPad wave of interest, to widespread amazement, as the software had seemed promising. The 500-strong team behind the WebOS software are reportedly being laid off. And partly it’s that HP has messed things up, twice being forced to announce its quarterly results early after the data leaked out – an error that might be forgiven once but not twice by Wall Street traders.

The recent changes left staff furious. One existing employee, a marketing director based in Boston, recently commented on Glassdoor: “The man[Apotheker] is flat-out incompetent. We’ve gone from [one] fiasco to the next under his reign.” Another was less blunt, but still excoriating: “The organisational structure is cobbled together, full of redundancies – everyone’s empowered to say no, no one is empowered to say yes. If Leo wanted to run SAP, he should have stayed at SAP.”

Staff generally give the company only an “OK” rating – 2.5 out of 5. And there are murmurs too that the PSG spinoff is being reconsidered. But the PC business will not be more profitable in the future than it is now. IBM exited it smartly in 2004, selling it to Lenovo, and has become a services powerhouse since. HP owns EDS, the services company; its future would clearly lie in services.

To Lusher, the damage to HP and Apotheker has already been done. “This only reinforces that HP is a company that is in severe disarray,” he said. “That the board would be considering a change in CEO less that 10 months after Apotheker took over is a damning indictment of not just the new CEO but the board itself. Having approved the recent strategy changes, it seems spineless just a month later to be potentially jettisoning that plan and its architect.”

Brian White of Ticonderoga Securities said in a research note: “Leo was placed in the role on a short-term basis to take the fall for the company’s under-investment under the previous CEO … At the same time, we believe a new CEO could begin to build credibility for HP and join the company after quite a bit of damage has already been done.” © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds