HP fires Apotheker – Meg Whitman named CEO

22 Sep 2011

Outgoing HP CEO Léo Apotheker

In the latest chapter on HP’s travails, the company’s board has sacked former SAP CEO Léo Apotheker and has replaced him with former eBay CEO Meg Whitman in the chief executive role, claiming “additional attributes” are now needed.

It is the latest in a bewildering chain of events that began last year when the board sacked Mark Hurd over a sexual harassment scandal, and which saw Apotheker take the reins, reshuffle the management team and begin the process of axing the technology giant’s PC and webOS divisions.

In a statement tonight, HP said Ray Lane has moved from non-executive chairman to executive chairman of the board of directors, and the board intends to appoint a lead independent director promptly.

“We are fortunate to have someone of Meg Whitman’s calibre and experience step up to lead HP,” said Lane.

“We are at a critical moment and we need renewed leadership to successfully implement our strategy and take advantage of the market opportunities ahead. Meg is a technology visionary with a proven track record of execution. She is a strong communicator who is customer focused, with deep leadership capabilities. Furthermore, as a member of HP’s board of directors for the past eight months, Meg has a solid understanding of our products and markets.”

Whitman said: “I am honoured and excited to lead HP. I believe HP matters – it matters to Silicon Valley, California, the country and the world.”

Speaking on behalf of the board, Lane said: “We very much appreciate Léo’s efforts and his service to HP since his appointment last year. The board believes that the job of the HP CEO now requires additional attributes to successfully execute on the company’s strategy. Meg Whitman has the right operational and communication skills and leadership abilities to deliver improved execution and financial performance.”

For a company of HP’s standing – the largest technology manufacturer on the planet – the events of the past year, with the hiring, firing and hiring of CEOs and uncertainty over the future of strategic divisions, the board of HP’s actions must also be analysed. Aside from the performance of respective CEOs, the board itself needs to decide if it, too, has the “additional attributes” to guide it back to its proper standing and execute its strategy.

In the meantime, Apotheker is likely to walk away with a severance package worth more than US$26m.

Whitman is well known in Silicon Valley as CEO of eBay, a consumer-facing business. The next year will decide if Whitman can adapt to the more corporate and enterprise focus of HP and turn its fortunes around.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years