New HP chief sees software as 'the glue'

Leo Apotheker, a veteran of software giant SAP, makes his HP debut before investors and analysts, saying he's ready to learn the ropes at the hardware maker.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
3 min read

Who exactly is Léo Apotheker?

For many American investors and analysts, the new president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard is a relative unknown. HP held a conference call this morning to formally introduce its new chief executive and take questions about what many are calling a curious choice.

Leo Apotheker
HP's new chief, Léo Apotheker. Dan Farber/CBS Interactive

The call was brief and didn't get into many specifics other than that software will play a much larger role in HP's future.

"For me the decision to accept [the position] was an easy one. I don't think there's another company in tech that can match HP's opportunity in the marketplace," Apotheker said in his opening remarks. "I have a great appreciation for this company's technology and its people."

Those outside the company may not be quite so confident about the choice. HP's stock was down again in early trading this morning, slipping about 3 percent to $40.87.

Apotheker was plucked from the world outside of Silicon Valley to lead the world's largest technology company by revenue. He was most recently CEO of German software giant SAP, though he parted ways with the company in February after only seven months at the helm. He starts formally at HP on Nov. 1.

The HP CEO job had been held by Mark Hurd, who resigned abruptly in August in the wake of an investigation by the board of directors in which he was determined to have violated the company's code of conduct. In a curious symmetry, where HP--long known best as a hardware maker--has turned to a seasoned software executive, Hurd has landed at Oracle, a software company now finding its way in the world of hardware following its acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

Several internal candidates from HP had reportedly made it into final consideration, including Vyomesh Joshi, Ann Livermore, and Todd Bradley, executive vice presidents of the printing, enterprise business, and personal computer businesses, respectively. Apotheker said the first thing he did upon accepting the CEO position was to contact each of his executives. He did not answer a question about how he plans to retain them.

Board member Robert Ryan said today that the company focused on six candidates for the CEO position both internal and external to HP, but only offered the job to Apotheker.

Ray Lane, former president of Oracle, was hired yesterday to be the HP board's non-executive chairman. Lane was not on the call.

One thing is becoming clear: HP intends to move more heavily into software. Not only did the company hire two seasoned software executives to lead the company, Apotheker hinted as much.

"I believe that HP should be more valuable than the sum of its parts," Apotheker said this morning. "Software is sort of the glue to make that happen."

Software is currently responsible for just a fraction of HP's revenue, and Apotheker's comments indicate that number may climb during his tenure. He did make brief mention of the other major businesses too.

"It's not only software, though," he said. "Higher valued-added services is an extremely important part of the strategy too."

Apotheker did not take the opportunity on the call to demonstrate his understanding of or comfort with HP's consumer-facing businesses, which could be a concern to investors. HP is the world's largest seller of both printers and PCs, and Apotheker's multidecade career in technology has been spent selling software to large businesses.

There's clearly much for him to learn about his new company, and he said he plans a trip to meet his new employees--there are more than 300,000 of them worldwide.

"I want to learn what they have to say," he said. "I want to do the same with our customers as well."

When asked how much time he needed to get up to speed, he didn't give a hard date, but said he would take the next few weeks and months.