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HP's CEO may speak up next week

LeoSmiles After three weeks of the trial between Oracle and SAP, HP's CEO Leo Apotheker appears to have won his bid to stay off the stand in the lawsuit. The former CEO of SAP has been subpoenaed as a witness in the trial, but Hewlett-Packard issued a statement that it would not permit the subpoena to be served. The announcement was timed with a listening tour Apotheker took of HP operations. Evidence testimony wrapped up today in the suit. Oracle didn't even bother to show the taped deposition Apotheker gave two years ago about SAP matters.

It's poor timing for Oracle, or maybe HP's calculation of the lawsuit scheduled, but next week might have found the new CEO within the reach of a process server, if one could get near the executive offices of the company. HP's year-end and Q4 report will be released and discussed Monday, Nov. 22 after the markets close. Nobody can be sure where the HP executive team works when it takes this reporting call for analysts. But 3000 Hanover Street in Palo Alto, is as good a guess as any, since it's HP's HQ.

The company announced today that it will pay its usual dividend to shareholders for the quarter, typically about 8 cents per share. Many tech giants no longer pay dividends, but HP shareholders have enjoyed one continuously for more than two decades. What's different about this period, compared to recent quarters, is that HP is not pre-announcing numbers for the quarter and fiscal year. The announcement is also later than ever, coming just three days before the US Thanksgiving break.

Any impact on 3000 sites making a migration is yet to be determined, but the Enterprise Servers, Storage and Networking unit will be watched to see if a string of declining quarterly profits and sales can be reversed. HP has extended a get-a-free-server offer for Integrity blades and enclosures when a customer adopts HP-UX and signs a support contract. Adding that can't be good for the bottom line on hardware sales of HP's Business Critical Systems unit.

Apotheker, who's only been exposed by way of a press release after HP hired him, is expected to have some impact on the ESS business -- eventually. His term at SAP selling enterprise solutions prepares him for boosting HP's enterprise software sales, and by extension, the hardware and operating environments which host them. "Leo is a strategic thinker with a passion for technology, wide-reaching global experience and proven operational discipline--exactly what we were looking for in a CEO,” said HP board member Robert Ryan in the press release about the CEO's selection.

Some say that looking for Apotheker during a quarterly conference call is a mistake. He's an operations expert, not a front-row marketing rep like Carly Fiorina was, the analysts say. The same was said of Apotheker's replacement Mark Hurd, focused on operating cost cuts and bringing a low profile into the HP job. However, eventually that CEO's presence was so essential in customer meetings that his top aide hired an actress to steer the best customers his way. The new CEO already has one thing in common with the man he succeeded. Both have been asked to leave their CEO posts by their boards. Apotheker resigned from SAP in February, ousted by SAP chairman Hasso Plattner.

The Monday conference call will be accountant-grade dry in many long stretches, covering the nuances of cash flow and materials availability, along with share repurchases (now an HP constant, it seems, with the stock having recovered more than half of its lost value since the Hurd ouster). Having been on the HP payroll for none of the quarter or year being reported, he can't provide any color on what's happened during fiscal 2010. But a pep talk for 2011's business, where he's pegged to improve HP Software fortunes, might be part of the roll call. Unlike Sir Paul McCartney at next summer's HP Discover show, however, Leo's not "scheduled to appear."