HP CEO change spurred by Oracle worries, report says

The board's decision to replace Leo Apotheker with Meg Whitman stemmed in part from a desire to prevent a possible buyout offer from Oracle, a new report claims.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
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HP's new CEO Meg Whitman
HP's new CEO Meg Whitman PRNewsFoto/Procter & Gamble

There might have been more than meets the eye to the decision by Hewlett-Packard's board of directors to oust Leo Apotheker as CEO, according to a new report.

Bloomberg is reporting, citing multiple sources, that the board replaced Apotheker with former eBay CEO Meg Whitman at least in part to prevent its stock price from falling to a point where it would face an unsolicited buyout offer from Oracle. However, according to other Bloomberg sources close to Oracle, that company did not have any immediate plans to acquire HP, even though the idea was under consideration.

HP's stock price during Apotheker's tenure was a major concern for shareholders. When Apotheker took over HP last November, the company's stock was hovering at around $42 per share. When he was ousted last week, the company's shares were trading at about $23 per share. Whitman, the board reasoned, according to Bloomberg's sources, would help bring the company's shares to a more suitable level.

That hasn't happened yet in the week since Whitman was named CEO. HP's shares closed the day yesterday at $23.19. As of this writing, the stock price is up to about $24 per share.

Related stories:
In Whitman, HP gets a CEO used to the spotlight
HP's Ray Lane on why Leo Apotheker had to go
Meg Whitman for HP CEO? Board eyes change

If the board's true motivation to fire Apotheker was fear of a takeover, it would stand in stark contrast to what HP executive chairman Ray Lane said last week about the move.

"It became increasingly clear that we needed new leadership to focus on operating our business more effectively to meet the challenges of today's environment," Lane said last week. He went on to say that Apotheker "[lacked the] ability to get down deep into the businesses and understand the dynamics that were going on the businesses, and that could land us on a quarter ahead of expectations."

Lane did not mention Oracle at any point during the discussion.

The idea that Oracle would want to acquire HP might not come as a surprise, considering HP's desire to focus more on enterprise software and solutions--key battlegrounds for Oracle. What's more, Oracle has more than enough cash--about $29 billion, including short-term investments--and shareholder value to get a deal done.

HP's market capitalization currently stands at $47.7 billion, while Oracle is valued at $152.5 billion.

Although HP apparently doesn't want to be acquired, according to Bloomberg, the company has hired Goldman Sachs to aid it in the event it faces an unsolicited bid from Oracle or any other company.

Neither HP nor Oracle immediately responded to CNET's request for comment.