Who will lead HP now? Experts offer their picks

A former HP executive, a few current ones, and the top dog at a rival PC maker top an informal list.

As tech industry icon Hewlett-Packard begins the search for its next chief executive, industry observers and CEO recruiters have plenty of suggestions on who would make good candidates.

Here are some of the names popping up:

Michael Capellas. The former CEO of Compaq Computer sold his company to HP in mid-2002. In November 2003, he resigned from HP to head up MCI.

Michael Capellas
president and CEO,

Capellas may soon find himself without a job if he is able to sell MCI to another telecommunications company.

"I think the world of Michael Capellas," said a former Compaq director. "He's a good operations guy and can fit in well with the HP culture, or any corporate culture."

Bringing back an executive who left after promising to stay at the company following the merger, however, could be a nightmare for image consultants.

"Although he is good at operations, HP's board may have a public-relations issue if they hire Capellas," said Stephen Mader, vice chairman of executive search company Christian & Timbers. "Capellas is the guy that sold them the problems they are having."

John Joyce. Joyce is head of IBM's Global Services Division--and HP views services as a high-growth area for the company, one where HP has been striving to improve its operations. In the past, Joyce also served as IBM's chief financial officer and as the company's president of Asia-Pacific operations.

John Joyce
senior VP,
IBM Global Services

Joyce would also have to wait some time to take over the CEO spot at IBM. CEO Sam Palmisano is only in his early 50s.

"I would also look at John Joyce from IBM, where he's been running a huge business for them," said David Nosal, a CEO search consultant.

"What better way to take on IBM than to hire an IBMer?" said Meta Group analyst Nick Gall.

Other strong IBM candidates include Steve Mills, senior vice president of the software group; Abby Kohnstamm, senior vice president of marketing; Nick Donofrio, senior vice president of technology and manufacturing; and Doug Elix, senior vice president of sales and distribution. Most have been at IBM for decades.

Sean Maloney. The British-born Maloney has been one of the rising stars at Intel for years.

Sean Maloney
Executive VP,

Among other jobs, he served as Andy Grove's assistant during the Pentium bug crisis and ran Asia-Pacific sales for the company during the late '90s. He now heads up the communications division.

With Paul Otellini slated to become the next CEO, Maloney won't have a shot at the top spot at Intel for about five years, when age will require Otellini to step down.

On the other hand, Maloney is the likely successor to Otellini.

Vyomesh Joshi. Joshi runs HP's printer and PC divisions and is generally held in high regard by employees and analysts. Selecting an in-house candidate would also allow HP to demonstrate consistency.

Along these lines, another possible candidate is Ann Livermore, executive vice president of the technology solutions group at HP.

Ed Zander. The Motorola CEO (and former president of Sun Microsystems) gets high marks from analysts and headhunters.

However, he's riding a crest of success. Motorola's sales have begun to perk up, thanks in part to fancy new phones. The company has also launched a home networking strategy.

Kevin Rollins. Headhunters salivate whenever the Dell CEO's name comes up. "If I were HP's board, I would do whatever I could to pull Kevin Rollins out of Dell," Nosal said. It's a tough order, though.

"I don't know that there is a recipe that can turn it around," Rollins said in November. "I wouldn't go there first off. I wouldn't go run that one."

Kevin Rollins,
president and CEO,

But who knows how long HP's list really is? Mader noted that HP's directors may be interested in relatively unknown candidates from the telecommunications services arena.

"I think you're going to see a selection of someone out of left field. It will be somewhat like when Lou Gerstner was hired by IBM," Mader said. "It would be about leadership and operational excellence, more than industry knowledge."

Conglomerate CEOs are another possibility. HP is the sum of several different divisions, so the board may try to get someone who is running or has run a company like General Electric or Tyco International--one that's a collection of somewhat independent units.

"I think they'd like to find another Jack Welch (former GE chief executive), someone who has run a conglomerate," said Carl Claunch, research vice president at Gartner. In this vein, Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy has been touted as a potentially attractive candidate by some headhunters.

CNET News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this report.

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