No. 6 tech story of 2011: Meet the new boss

Several major technology companies replace their CEOs in 2011

This is the sixth post for "My personal, hand-selected top 11 tech stories of 2011." You can read the first five by clicking on the links at the bottom.


Unlike any year in memory, 2011 was notable for the unusual number of changes in the corner offices of the world's largest and most high-profile tech companies.

Some CEOs left voluntarily, while others were forced out. Some left the companies they headed in better shape. Others, not so much.

Here are the five most significant tech CEO changes in 2011:

Google: Eric Schmidt out, Larry Page in

The search giant stunned tech analysts and media in mid-January when it announced its fourth-quarter earnings and threw in an, "Oh yeah, we're also changing our CEO."

And just like that, Eric Schmidt was out, and Google co-founder Larry Page was in (though the change actually didn't take effect until April).

Schmidt, of course, remains on as executive chairman of the Google board and a valuable member of the strategic team. But the "adult" of the management team was worn down from privacy battles and antitrust allegations. And he just may have thought Page was the person to keep Google competitive in the social/mobile age. Whatever the back story, the Google CEO change appears to have been a well-planned transition made from a position of strength and stability. Unlike the next one.

Yahoo: Bartz runs out of bluster

Yahoo chief executive Carol Bartz always kept board members and shareholders off her back with belligerent defensiveness and perpetual demands for patience.

It actually appeared to have been working, too, with Bartz more than halfway through a four-year contract and directors seemingly unwilling to confront her over her inability to grow revenue or share price for Yahoo in her 2 1/2 years as CEO.

So even though Bartz was the subject of relentless criticism -- for her inability to articulate a vision for Yahoo, for her needless antagonism of Alibaba CEO Jack Ma, a powerful and valuable business partner, for her palpably high self-regard -- it appeared the board was going to take the coward's easy way out and let Bartz play out the string.

Which I boldly predicted would happen in this post. Which was published on the same exact day in early September that the board fired Bartz. I was hoping it would seem funny by now.

Yahoo made CFO Tim Morse interim chief executive, but the board is having trouble deciding the company's future, never mind finding a replacement.

Hewlett-Packard: Get thee to an Apothekery

I don't know what that means, either. I just wanted to use it once, and this is my last chance.

There always seemed to be something a little off about Leo Apotheker, who was named chief executive of Hewlett-Packard late last year, following the departure of former CEO Mark Hurd in a minor scandal.

Apotheker began his tenure as HP's chief executive by avoiding the office for weeks in November 2010 so he wouldn't be served with a subpoena in the intellectual property lawsuit between Oracle and Apotheker's previous company, SAP.

For months, nothing, with the exception of a poor Q1 report in February. Finally, Apotheker in March announces a cloud strategy that sounded great on paper, until you realized HP was in no position to compete with Google or Amazon in the cloud.

Another disappointing quarter and revenue forecast came in May, along with rumors of an executive exodus and internal memos warning of "a tough quarter" and urging austerity measures.

Then, the bombshell: Apotheker announced in mid-August that HP, the world's largest PC manufacturer, would look to get out of the PC business. And also would kill off webOS, for which it paid $1.2 billion a year ago as a way into the mobile market. Instead it became the TouchPad.

HP shares plunged 20% overnight, and the board realized Apotheker had to go. On September 22, HP announced that Apotheker would be replaced by former eBay CEO and current HP board member Meg Whitman, who faces questions of her own regarding whether she is the right person to lead HP.

IBM: Orderly transition

Leave it to "no drama" IBM to pull off the most orderly and groundbreaking CEO change.

In late October, Big Blue chief executive Sam Palmisano announced that long-time IBM executive Virginia Rometty would replace him as CEO on January 1.

Palmisano, who will remain as IBM chairman, had been planning this for some time, and Rometty has been a potential CEO candidate for a decade.

When Rometty takes over at IBM next week, she'll become the first female chief executive of the 100-year-old tech company.

Apple: Painful, but necessary, change

When Steve Jobs announced in mid-January that he would be taking an indefinite medical leave of absence from Apple, there may have been people who expected the company co-founder to come back full-time, ready to throw himself into his next product vision.

The more realistic among us knew better. Jobs had struggled for years with a rare form of pancreatic cancer. He appeared unusually gaunt in the winter, and even more so in June, when he gave a brief presentation to Apple's annual developers' conference.

It was clear that Jobs's body was failing him, and that there'd be no return to Apple. This was made official on August 24, when Jobs announced his permanent resignation as CEO and urged the board to appoint his hand-picked successor, COO TIm Cook, advice the board took.

Jobs would be dead six weeks later.

Top 11 tech stories of 2011 linksNo. 11: Netflix's public suicide art project No. 10: The cloud rises No. 9: Tales of tablet triumph, tragedy No. 8: Patent wars No. 7: The social 'bubble'
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