HP's Whitman lines up future scapegoat

Software EVP Bill Veghte promoted to chief strategy officer

The first thing a shrewd incoming chief executive must do is assemble a team he or she can fire when things go bad.

It appears HP CEO Meg Whitman, no stranger to this rodeo, has begun taking that crucial step.

The struggling PC maker named executive vice president Bill Veghte (a Microsoft veteran) as its new chief strategy officer, responsible for HP's cloud and webOS initiatives, along with his existing responsibilities overseeing the software division.

"Every 10 to 15 years, fundamental shifts occur in the IT industry that redefine how technology is delivered," Whitman said in a statement announcing the appointment of her scapegoat. "From mainframes to client/server to the internet, companies that identified the opportunity first and developed the right strategy came out on top. As we move forward, HP intends to stay on top, and I believe Bill has the knowledge and vision to keep us there."

Stay on top of what? The printer market? Or the doomed PC market?

Honestly, Whitman, former CEO of eBay, makes it sound as if HP is hitting on all cylinders instead of working on its third chief executive in 18 months and trying to reassure customers that it won't decide again to abandon its PC division, as former CEO Leo Apotheker announced it would do last August (a decision that led to Apotheker's firing a month later).

But CEOs are supposed to exude confidence no matter how messed up things are, so Whitman's merely doing her job.

What may appear weird to those unfamiliar with the ways of the corporate world is that after HP's former chief strategy and technology officer, Shane Robison, resigned last October, the company said "in an effort to drive strategy, research and development closer to the company’s businesses, it will not be replacing the role of chief strategy and technology officer."

And now, less than three months later, the company has reversed that decision. Maybe HP concluded it actually would be better to drive strategy, research and development further from the company's businesses. You know, to provide some perspective.

All cynicism aside, I'm sure Whitman would prefer that Veghte's tenure as HP's strategy officer be wildly successful. After all, she'll get to take the credit.

But if it's disaster, well, she can work with that too.

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