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CEO Leo ends earnest Livermore's duties

Ann Livermore, who has been leading close to half of HP's business, has been sent to the board of directors after 29 years of day-to-day duties. The executive vice president of HP's enterprise and services operations, Livermore was an earnest team player for a franchise that changed captains four times during her tenure. The executive rollover will matter to companies making a migration to HP's other enterprise products. Livermore was at the top of the org chart for that part of HP's business.

Livermore, 52, began her work just out of graduate school in 1982 while John Young was CEO at HP, and three times over the last 12 years she made the short list for becoming CEO. She was closest to the job in 1999 when HP decided to choose Carly Fiorina, the first outsider, as its CEO and board chair. Although Livermore was favored among the 3000 customers and partners who valued the HP Way -- and still could count the 3000 among HP's best products -- the board decided to start an era of high revenue growth, sparked by technology bought or borrowed from outside instead of built from the inside.

It's fun to imagine what might have become of the HP 3000 if Livermore's first shot at CEO would have been a success. She came from the Classic HP management team that featured Marc Hoff, her boss at HP Support, where I first interviewed her rolling out a fresh version of HP LaserROM -- the industry's first product-support on a CD, built for a company with computers ranging from desktops to enterprise servers. Before there was a Web, there was LaserROM. I left that interview suite in 1989 feeling Livermore had leadership spark. She was 30 years old at that Interex conference in San Francisco.

But Livermore was everything that Fiorina was not. Livermore was not steeped in sales and climbing over backs at a corporation like Lucent. Not flashy and outspoken, not an executive unwedded to the HP Way. Livermore is remembered today by your community as an HP executive who represented the old style of management, the one where even a VP would write a home phone number on the back of a business card for a customer. But she should also be regarded as HP's ultimate team player, a survivor who promoted the HP 3000 as a conference keynoter just three months before HP's exit announcement. Like so much of what she did at HP, that duty was what top management called for, or the customers demanded.

Livermore was on-message, as always, at the HP World conference in 2001 where she delivered the keynote address. At the time she was leading HP's Services group, the support arm that HP's board took away from her earlier this year. Dave Donnatelli, the EMC high flyer hired by Mark Hurd to run HP's Enterprise, Servers, Storage & Networking group, is taking over the rest of her day-to-day duties.

In that summer a decade ago, Livermore delivered the most earnest defense of the HP 3000 and MPE/iX in her speech. The only round of applause which interrupted Livermore’s speech came when she listed all of HP’s strategic operating systems, ending with MPE/iX. “We offer a choice of operating environments, and we think that’s really important, ranging from Linux, to HP-UX, to Windows, to MPE.” She paused, then said, “See? I didn’t forget MPE.”

The president went on to add that HP “designed the HP e3000, the A- and N-Class servers we introduced earlier this year, specifically to power the compute-intensive applications today’s corporations need. With new solutions and also greater performance compared to the previous 3000 systems, we think these systems are ideal for many of today’s complex data management and Web-enabled applications. For those of you who want to continue operating with your 3000 MPE environment, we think this is very important.”

Livermore’s talk was just one of several 3000 mentions during that show, one that included a comic book summarizing the message: "Remember that word, flexibility? Well, HP offers all four platforms: MPE/iX, Windows, HP-UX and Linux. Fully compatible, of course.

One year earlier she was defending HP's decisions to use the 3000 as one of five operating environments for enterprise computing, including Unix, Windows NT, Novell's Netware and Linux At the time she was reporting directly to Fiorina, chosen over her for the top job one year earlier. Livermore admitted the platform was not going to regain its multipurpose role of the past.

The HP 3000 for us continues to be an important operating environment. But the sales seem to be focused in particular vertical industries, areas where people want complete, end-to-end applications. It’s not as big, and we don’t anticipate the revenue stream will be as big for us, as what we see with our HP-UX business, and what we see with our NT business. But it’s going to be continue to be important for us. The revenue generation is not as large, and the new customers are not as large.

It is, on the one hand, very much an installed base market for us. We’re continuing to help our installed base customers expand and add more to their environments: bring additional systems in as they need them and continue to do the performance improvements, scalability and architecture work. But we don’t see the same number of new customers moving onto MPE/iX as we see for HP-UX and with Linux.

We think a lot of this has to do with the fact that there’s more applications available on NT and on Unix today than are available on MPE/iX. We love this operating environment, the reliability. We love the stability. Our limitation has mostly been how many software companies are committed to porting their applications, tuning them and having them run on MPE/iX. That’s the thing that’s driving how broad our business can be.

That was Livermore's style -- to bridge the gap between corporate-speak with a knowledge of the HP business from a platform perspective. No other CEO candidate of the last decade could bring that tribal knowledge of the HP Way to the job. Now with a raft of HP's Enterprise business executives being demoted, the newest CEO is clearing the way for better results from HP's enterprise businesses.