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New HP head was NCR's turnaround artist

As NCR helmsman, Mark Hurd brought the company "back from the brink," analyst says. Hewlett-Packard apparently liked his resume.

Matt Hines Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Matt Hines
covers business software, with a particular focus on enterprise applications.
Matt Hines
4 min read
NCR's Mark Hurd, who's been tapped to become Hewlett-Packard's next CEO, may indeed be the right man for the job, according to at least one analyst.

Others aren't convinced yet--but rest assured that all are looking at his track record for signs of what's to come.

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"He's got the right resume (for HP), and he's been working for a solid company," said IDC's Roger Kay. "The story on NCR is more or less: It's been (pulled) back from the brink."

The appointment of Hurd, 48, comes less than two months after HP ousted former CEO Carly Fiorina.

Hurd is probably best known for his work in helping NCR--owner of Teradata and a maker of automated teller machines, point-of-sale terminals and other technologies--recover from financial ills of years past.

In 2001, NCR dropped its earnings estimates by 40 percent during one quarter, as slowed spending on data warehousing technology caught up with the company. But during 2003, the year he was chosen to take the helm of NCR, Hurd helped the company's net income nearly quintuple, from $58 million, or 61 cents a share, to $285 million, or $2.97 a share.

As part of the turnaround effort, Hurd was credited with slashing NCR's spending.

Hurd has also been credited with building the company's Teradata data warehousing business, which generated $1.2 billion of NCR's $5.9 billion in sales in 2004. Overall, the company's revenue grew by almost 7 percent last year.

Kay said that before Hurd took over, NCR had declined unnecessarily under the oversight of AT&T, which spun off the company in 1997. Kay credits Hurd with helping drive its resurgence.

"I thought (NCR) was very innovatively positioned in about 1980 or 1981, and AT&T kind of mismanaged it," Kay said. "What's likely is that Mark Hurd and his colleagues have spent the past decade or so trying to

nurse the company back to health in its other businesses."

Although he served as CEO and a board member since only 2003, Hurd has been at NCR for 23 years, serving as president and chief operating officer, and fulfilling various roles with the company's marketing, professional services and sales management operations.

Mark Hurd

Additionally, in 2004, Hurd teamed with former NCR chief Lars Nyberg to author a book titled, "The Value Factor: How Global Leaders Use Information for Growth and Competitive Advantage."

A bit of a mystery?
Still, not everyone is sold on Hurd as a leader for the technology market.

"NCR has fallen so far off the radar. They have essentially been level, at best, for over a decade" in the general-purpose server market, said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata. HP instead should have tried to recruit one of the many lifers out of IBM, Eunice said.

Hurd is known as an operational cost cutter, but he doesn't have a huge record for growing market share, Eunice said.

Added Chris Foster, an analyst at Technology Business Research: "He's definitely a bit of a mystery. The pick was definitely out of left field."

Hurd will face tough choices right away, said Gartner's Martin Reynolds. HP has sufffered under the burden of high overhead and an inability to derive much profit from a hardware business that reaps billions annually in revenue. Although HP went through massive layoffs following the acquisition of Compaq Computer, more may have to occur, Reynolds said.

"He looks like an operations guy. He's got a cutting record. HP has this huge hardware business, and hardware isn't what it used to be," Reynolds said. "Their costs are high."

One choice that Hurd may have to face in the near future is exiting markets, said Gartner's Charles Smulders. Currently, HP participates in every geographic market, and makes PCs for budget seekers and luxury buyers. By contrast, Dell mostly concentrates on the mid- to high-end PCs, while Acer has forged a comeback through concentrating on laptops for Europeans.

"They have to make some hard choices in geographies and end-user markets," Smulders said.

Hurd's also a strong contrast to Fiorina, in terms of personality. She was touted as a rising corporate star when she joined HP from Lucent. Hurd is a mystery. He came up through the ranks of NCR and has been unheralded. When asked what they knew of him, both Reynolds and Smulders replied, "not much."

"He was on our contact list, but that's about it," Eunice said. "I know we sent him a Christmas card because I checked today."

CNET News.com's John Spooner contributed to this report.