Is Apotheker on the way out at HP? (And is Meg Whitman on the way in?)

HP CEO Leo Apotheker delivers the keynote address at the HP Summit in San Francisco, California March 14, 2011. Credit: REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Rumors fly that HP board of directors is prepared to oust embattled CEO

Another embattled tech chief executive may be in danger of losing a job.

The board of directors of Hewlett-Packard reportedly is considering removing CEO Leo Apotheker from his job and replacing him -- at least temporarily -- with board member and former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, according to articles on All Things Digital and Bloomberg.

Apotheker is under heavy fire from investors for a sharp drop in HP's share price, prompted in large part by disappointing quarterly results and reduced guidance during the German native's 10-month tenure. HP's shares were down nearly 47% through Tuesday since Apotheker took over last November.

Citing "several sources close to the situation," All Things Digital's Kara Swisher writes that while the appointment of Whitman is not yet certain, "a significant contingent on the board is keen to remove Apotheker after a what some directors consider is a series of management mishaps."

Shares of Hewlett-Packard (NASDAQ: HPQ) were up nearly 9% to 24.45 in early trading Wednesday as Wall Street absorbed -- some would say "savored" -- the rumor.

The former SAP chief executive has embarked on a strategy to shift HP's focus to higher-margin software and services businesses from its more traditional personal computing business.

But shares plummeted in mid-August after the company announced it would attempt to spin off its computer division, kill off its webOS mobile operating system, and buy British software company Autonomy for $10.7 billion.

Wall Street saw the moves as panicky and ill-conceived. Not only is HP the world's largest computer maker, its Personal Systems Group was responsible for nearly 30% of revenues in the latest quarter. But by announcing plans to exit the computer market, HP hurt its bargaining position with potential buyers of the PSG unit.

And walking away from webOS just a year after buying the mobile operating system from Palm for $1.2 billion, and less than two months after launching a tablet computer (the TouchPad) running on it? That blows right by failure to fiasco.

Now the HP board, perhaps emboldened by the recent ouster of another controversial CEO -- Yahoo's Carol Bartz -- appears ready to make a move, if the anonymous sources are accurate.

Still, one wonders what they're thinking if they're considering Whitman as a replacement, even a temporary one. She has no background in HP's lines of business or target markets. Look how that worked out for Bartz, who went from successfully running an engineering design software company (Autodesk) to unsuccessfully running an Internet company in search of a modern identity.

Since I predicted the Yahoo board would keep Bartz about two minutes before she was dismissed, I'll pass on predicting Apotheker's fate. But a long stint in that corner office seems increasingly unlikely.

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