Meg Whitman for HP CEO? Board eyes change

New reports say former eBay CEO Meg Whitman could replace Leo Apotheker, who has held the chief executive job at Hewlett-Packard for about a year.

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
3 min read

He hasn't even been around for a year, and already reports are cropping up suggesting that Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Leo Apotheker will soon be replaced.

Meg Whitman
Meg Whitman Flickr user Max Morse

According to reports from AllThingsD and Bloomberg, citing anonymous sources, HP's board of directors is nearing a decision to remove Apotheker as CEO, and hire former eBay CEO Meg Whitman in his place. Although both publications said that a deal is by no means in place between HP and Whitman, Bloomberg's sources said she could be named to the position initially in an interim basis.

Apotheker took over at HP in November. A former CEO at German software giant SAP, Apotheker was viewed by many as an odd choice for a company that had a major consumer-facing component to its operation, since as chief executive of SAP, Apotheker was heavily invested in the enterprise.

However, at the time, HP's board thought that he could be right for the job. In fact, HP board member Robert Ryan said in a statement in September 2010 when Apotheker's appointment was announced that the new CEO was chosen because he's "a strategic thinker with a passion for technology, wide-reaching global experience, and proven operational discipline."

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However, soon after taking over at HP, it was clear that Apotheker had a somewhat different vision for the company than his predecessor, Mark Hurd. In March, at his first official appearance before analysts and the press as HP CEO, Apotheker said that he planned to focus HP's efforts on "cloud services, connectivity among devices, and software" during his tenure as CEO.

That was made abundantly clear last month when HP announced that it was discontinuing its TouchPad tablet and considering spinning off its PC business into its own operation. If the board approves the move later this year, it could take 12 to 18 months to complete the spinoff of HP's PC business, known internally as the Personal Systems Group.

Leo Apotheker
Leo Apotheker Dan Farber/CNET

But it appears that the board is more concerned with HP's financial performance. During Apotheker's tenure as CEO, HP has continued to disappoint investors. The company has already been forced to slash sales forecasts a few times, and the impact that a spun-off PC business could have on its business could be major.

All those troubles have caused HP's stock price to drop significantly during Apotheker's tenure. At the beginning of November, HP shares were hovering around $42. As of this writing, HP is trading at $24--and it's only that high because shares shot up nearly 7 percent this morning following reports of Apotheker's impending ouster.

But whether Whitman will be able to succeed where Apotheker has seemingly failed remains to be seen. During her 10-year stint with eBay, Whitman was able to steer the company through the dot-com bubble and burst. However, as the years wore on, Whitman's popularity among investors started to decline as, some critics say, she failed to innovate as well as competitors.

"Whitman wasn't as innovative as her counterparts at Amazon and elsewhere...They definitely need a bit of a change of direction," Aaron Kessler, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, said in 2008 when Whitman announced her resignation. "The biggest challenge is buyer activity. There's been buyer fatigue in the last year or so, with fewer people coming to the site and coming less often."

After leaving eBay, Whitman tried her luck in politics. Last year, she was unsuccessful in her bid to become California governor.

Since then, according to AllThingsD sources, Whitman has been looking for another CEO job at a major tech company. What's more, she has reportedly shown interest in taking over at HP if the board does, in fact, remove Apotheker.

Luckily for HP, if it does want to hire Whitman, it won't need to go far to find her: she joined the company's board in January.

HP did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.

This story has been updated numerous times throughout the morning.