MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
One of the worst kept secrets in Silicon Valley was made official today. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman is taking over at Hewlett-Packard. Making the announcement, the HP board called Whitman a technology visionary, with a proven track record of execution. Her predecessor lasted less than a year on the job. Here's NPR's Richard Gonzales.
RICHARD GONZALES: With the firing of Leo Apotheker, HP, once one of high tech's bedrock companies, is letting go of its third CEO in six years. The former CEO, Mark Hurd, was forced out a year ago in a squabble over ethics and improper expense reports. Since Hurd's departure, HP's market value has shrunk by $60 billion. Apotheker didn't help things when he announced last month that HP, a name virtually synonymous with quality PCs and printers, might or might not get out of the hardware business and focus on software. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld is a dean at Yale's School of Management. He says that announcement confused everyone: customers, suppliers, vendors, employees and shareholders.
JEFFREY SONNENFELD: There was a term, the HP way, which you may recall, that was industrial folklore in a good way. There's a certain mythic imagery of what HP stood for in terms of the quality of the product and the kind of management of the organization. Well, that's all gone. I mean, the HP way, they've lost their way.
GONZALES: And that's a popular view here in California as well. Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw, had even harsher words, calling HP a clown without a circus, a tragicomedy.
ASHOK KUMAR: It's really unfortunate because you have a company that's iconic of the valley, and it's becoming increasingly a laughingstock. And it does damage the morale of the rank and file HP employees.
GONZALES: And Kumar says even if you question Apotheker's strategic decisions, he had to be acting with the implicit blessing of the board.
KUMAR: And so to blame the current CEO for some of its woes is unfair.
GONZALES: Enter into this saga, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who is getting her second shot at a second act. She's legendary for having taken over eBay when it had a few dozen employees and $86 million in revenues. Under her leadership, eBay became a household term, earning almost $6 billion in revenue. Then she got the idea to run for governor of California last year.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
MEG WHITMAN: We can fix California. No question about it. It's going to take a different style of leadership. It's going to take a different approach. But we can make California great again.
GONZALES: Running as a Republican, Whitman spent more than $170 million dollars, almost all of it her own money. That was a record amount for any statewide office in the country. But she lost to an aging former governor, Democrat Jerry Brown, by 13 percentage points. Now, as the new CEO of HP, Whitman will be the second woman to run that company. The first, Carly Fiorina, lost her bid to represent California in the United States Senate last year too. Yale's Jeffrey Sonnenfeld says Whitman has many qualities that might help her succeed in turning HP around. He says she's entrepreneurial and resilient.
SONNENFELD: She's got to make strategic sense of this business. She might be able to pull it off. She's a capable communicator. She could have been better in the campaign, but I think she's learned a lot from that process. And she's not an ideologue. She's not Carly Fiorina. I think she has the capability to learn from where her mistakes were, and I think she can do better.
GONZALES: But Sonnenfeld says another challenge for Whitman is doing what her three predecessors failed to do: deal with a board of directors he calls poisonous. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.