HP Headlines, Pick A Favorite

by Dave Michels

HP used to be a great company. An amazing company, and the subject of numerous business books discussing innovation and leadership. Other than printers and calculators, I don’t have much HP around any more. Love my HP 12C calculator (RPN Ever4!).

But the current HP can’t seem to avoid controversy. I’m not going to say the decision to get out of PCs or WebOS is wrong, HP certainly isn’t the first to come to these conclusions – but the journey hasn’t been very direct.

I thought buying Palm was incredibly stupid when it happened. I can point to a blog post to prove it. My concern then (Aug/2010) was that it was going to take too much time and effort to make WebOS viable as HP intended (and concluded).

The only problem is the $1.2B and the shear amount of effort it will take to effectively compete against Apple that managed to sell 1M iPads in 28 days. HP has to create an ecosystem, including an appstore, a slate, an ebook partnership, manage an acquisition, recruit developers, and who knows what else.

As time marched on, I began to warm to WebOS. HP should make the most of spent money and sleep in the bed it made. It was utterly stupid to take on the iPad, but WebOS was a decent OS and the tablet/pad form factor along with emerging commercial opportunities seemed viable. HP stated it was going to put WebOS in its printers – that makes sense with IPv6 and the increasing need to print from any device any where such as a cell phone. While the consumer market for tablets is taking off, I believe commercial needs for specialized tablets beyond the consumer/general iPad is about to emerge. Consider a WebOS version of the UPS delivery pad, a tablet optimized for retail staff to check inventory and complete sales, or a padlet optimized for nurses and healthcare. I can see a pad like device built into the back of airline seats for entertainment, web access, and shopping. These are the types of sectors HP could have owned – taking on Apple with a like device without apps was stupid.

I didn’t think HP buying Palm made a lot of sense, but abandoning it now seems crazy too. They bought Palm for $1.2B, spent a fortune on product development and even more on advertising, and then shut it down as the form factor and mobility craze moves into high gear!

But what really gets me is how HP can’t seem to stay out of the headlines. Not for brilliance, but for stupidity.

How about the Mark Hurd Fiasco? This was when HP fired their most competent leader in years, the dude was delivering impressive shareholder value, yet fired for “crimes” that HP’s own internal audit determined to be no big deal. Mark Hurd was the one that brought back normalcy to HP after the Carly Fiasco). Hurd also got $12.2 million in severance.

Not only was HP’s board surprised Hurd didn’t go quietly – but billionaire Larry Ellison from Oracle lambasted HP For making such a stupid fire. Ellison wrote an open letter in the New York Times. Since when do external CEOs pounce on the board of a public company for management changes? Since HP.

Hurd was also the front man that soothed the public after the HP debacle involving spying. Those were good headlines. HP was under fire for spying on journalists and board members in order to determine the sources of leaks to the press. This whole thing started when CNET published HPs secret strategy. Board member Patricia Dunn headed the investigation which involved private investigators impersonating board members and media staff to obtain personal records. It ended with her exit and multiple criminal and congressional investigations.

Hurd came on after Carly – another disaster for the company and more laundry-like headlines. Carly engineered the HP acquisition of Compaq computer. That was the merger that drove William Hewlett, son of the founder Hewlett and board member, to sell his stock and resign. It is only suiting now that HP wants to exit the PC business.

The list of blunders at HP makes plenty of good headlines.  They consistently point to the board.

Despite its good name, HP missed consumerization. The company has completely missed the rise of mobility. In terms of UC, there was some excitement with the purchase of 3com – a VoIP pioneer, but that hasn’t done anything. Procure used to be left independent and were doing well, but over the past few years that division is now just HP too. HP also blew its lead in telepresence (Halo), which recently fell into Polycom’s hands. Polycom must have bought it for a song too – the deal was “accretive” for Polycom on day one.

HP is the punching bag of tech. I loved how Steve Jobs described his new space ship HQ project to Cupertino planners, something like this:. The location is very sacred to me because when I was a small lad, this was HPs property. Now I want to completely bull doze away the contagion they left.