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November 04, 2015

HP C-level legacy hubris perplexes women

Fortune FailingNow that the Hewlett-Packard spin off is underway — the initial 1970s concept of selling business computing solutions has returned to the fore at Hewlett Packard Enterprise — a review of who steered the bulky HP cart into the ditch seems worth a note. HP engineering culture was targeted by COO Chris Hsu as an impediment to splitting the company up in a year's time. The HP which ran on engineering desires fell to the wayside after current Republican candidate Carly Fiorina mashed up PC business into IT's legacy at HP, including the HP 3000 heritage.

MegLaughingSome insight as well as bafflement is emerging. Meg Whitman, a board director of HP whose primary job is now CEO of the restored HP Enterprise, doubts that Fiorina's best start in political service will be in the White House. According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News

“I think it’s very difficult for your first role in politics to be President of the United States," she said. Whitman has expressed empathy for Fiorina over cutting HP jobs — between the two of them, they’ve slashed tens of thousands of jobs at HP. But the failed California gubernatorial candidate told CNN, “While I think business strengths are important, I also think having worked in government is an important part of the criteria.” Whitman has thrown her support behind New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Gloria-1000x600As a punctuation for that measure of suitability, we stumbled upon another woman with a leadership career. Gloria Steinem, the seminal sparkplug of the feminist revolution of the 1970s and ardent advocate for womens' career ceilings, spoke on The Daily Show this week. Served up a fat pitch by the host that "Carly is a big favorite of yours, right?" Steinem shook her head and smiled. "I’m talking about women who got elected because they represented a popular majority opinion. She got promoted by God-knows-who."

My publisher turned to me and asked, "Who did promote Carly? Do you know?" I wondered how many of our readers, especially those ready to vote in GOP primaries, knew the answer.

The short answer to the question is HP executive VP and board member Dick Hackborn. The shadowy giant of the printer empire, who rarely left his Idaho aerie for Silicon Valley, pumped Carly in the advent of Y2K. But the rogue's gallery of HP directors who promoted Fiorina have all been sacked, retired or died.

Resigned: Tom Perkins and Patricia Dunn. Plus George Keyworth, after the board discovered he'd leaked the pre-texting offenses which Dunn dished out to the press. Charges against her were dropped after more than a year of investigation.

Retired: Hackborn, Sam Ginn, Phil Condit, Robert Knowling.

Ousted: The son of one of HP's co-founders, Walter Hewlett. (Hard to imagine Walter voting to hire Fiorina, but esprit de corps counts for something. He even supported Fiorina's overpriced attempt to buy Price Waterhouse Cooper for $18 billion.)

Died: Lew Platt, after voting for his successor.

Eight of the 12 current HP directors have been appointed this year. It's a hopeful sign of change from a vendor which is still responsible for billions in products installed at migrated 3000 sites.

The answer to Steinem's question about who promoted Carly Fiorina is "people who've long since been separated from deciding HP's futures." Only Platt comes in with a clean bill, resigning from HP in 2000, after having the grace to step away from a company whose board no longer believed in him. That says much more about that board, and the ditch it pushed HP into, than it does about Platt.

05:21 PM in News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink

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