Q: What's happening with Hewlett-Packard these days? Are they back for real? -- T.Y. Calgary, Alberta.
A: Not only is it back, it is back with a vengeance. This little fiasco with the board spying on other board members is the only blemish on what has been a stellar inauguration to new CEO Mark Hurd -- and I don't blame him for that at all, as he inherited a dysfunctional board from way back.
A year ago, HP was in the dumps. For the past few years, Carly Fiorina spent more time acquiring corporate jets and hanging out with celebrities in order to boost her own image than doing anything to turn an old, stodgy, boring HP around. I loved watching her on 60 Minutes a few weeks ago, taking credit for the HP renaissance (wearing just a heinous shirt in the process) and trying to steal Hurd's thunder by suggesting it was her plans that are now delivering success, and Hurd was really just along for the ride. Silly, if you ask me.
Anyway, Fiorina went from a superb self-promoter who kept the company (and herself) in the limelight while products got old, the sales force got lazy and market share plummeted all over the place. Hurd looks like he'd rather spend time as a paid proctology school practice dummy than deal with the media. That seems to be working, though, because last quarter HP overtook Dell in the PC space, storage is showing more energy and enthusiasm than ever before, the services business is generating new (and very large) opportunities worldwide, and the little printer business it has seems to finally be catching on! All in all, there isn't much that isn't heading the right way at HP these days.
Does Hurd get all the credit? No, but he sure has set a new course at HP. Accountability exists now -- what a concept! He has done some very un-HP like things that have rejuvenated the place, such as pulling the trigger on acquisitions in days vs. months or years. And once the acquisitions are complete, Hurd keeps the people that he got with the buyouts to infuse new life and skills into HP to shake up the status quo. It remains to be seen if giant buys such as Mercury Interactive will pan out, but it looks good so far and we'll see how the integration goes.
In storage, HP bought people for technology historically -- letting the smart people who were acquired run away with their cash and the ideas that got them where they were. Now not only has HP embraced the entrepreneurs it swallowed up, it promotes them. Case in point: Ash Ashutosh, the founder of AppIQ Inc. is now HP's storage chief technology officer. Duncan Campbell, the storage vice president of marketing is a smart, interesting guy who has a sense of humor -- once considered a character flaw inside of HP. I think we may actually see HP start to tell us all how good it is doing! Did you see its little sub-$5,000 uber array that speaks SAN or NAS and automatically backs itself up? It has piles of cool stuff built right into it, and that's just the kind of thing that we'll hopefully see permeating the rest of HP's lineup.
So, if nothing else, this little diatribe should prove my own personal mental flexibility. I trashed HP all over the place over the last 3-plus years for losing the formula that made it the undisputed dominant force in midrange storage. Now, I'm glad to say, it is back, and it looks better than ever. I don't hold a grudge, but I never forget either. Sun has replaced HP as the new "king of companies with huge install bases that are almost impossible to screw up but somehow make really bad decisions and refuse to change a culture that worked 10 years ago but now makes it look like it is vying for the bone yard." Perhaps the Sun folks should pay attention to what HP's been able to pull off by nuking the sacred cows and challenging the previously accepted assumptions.
Send me your questions -- about anything, really, to [email protected]
Steve Duplessie founded Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. in 1999 and has become one of the most recognized voices in the IT world. He is a regularly featured speaker at shows such as Storage Networking World, where he takes on what's good, bad, and more importantly, what's next. For more of Steve's insights, read his blogs.