Meg Whitman as HP CEO: Obvious choice or obvious disaster?

Former eBay chief executive, current HP board member, replaces Leo Apotheker in top spot

It's official: Leo Apotheker has been shown the door by Hewlett-Packard's board of directors, and former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman -- an HP director only since early this year -- will replace him.

Apotheker lasted only 10 months on the job. He previous stint as co-CEO of German business software vendor SAP was even more brief.

The rumor that Apotheker was about to be dismissed has been around for a couple of days, with the Whitman angle emerging on Wednesday. HP shares have plunged during Apotheker's tenure, and abrupt strategy reversals have called into question his vision for the company and ability to execute.

Here's what HP said in an official statement:

HP today announced that its board of directors has appointed Meg Whitman as president and chief executive officer.

"We are fortunate to have someone of Meg Whitman's caliber and experience step up to lead HP," said (new executive chairman Ray) Lane. "We are at a critical moment and we need renewed leadership to successfully implement our strategy and take advantage of the market opportunities ahead. Meg is a technology visionary with a proven track record of execution. She is a strong communicator who is customer focused with deep leadership capabilities. Furthermore, as a member of HP's board of directors for the past eight months, Meg has a solid understanding of our products and markets."

Lane's lavish praise of Whitman ignores one troubling fact: Whitman has no experience with enterprise customers. Being a "technology visionary" as chief executive of an online auction company isn't a transferable skill here.

Her eight months as a part-time HP board member do next to nothing to compensate for Whitman's lack of experience in the enterprise sector. Presumably HP believes that by making Lane -- a former president and COO of Oracle -- executive chairman of the board (he had been non-executive chairman), he can provide counsel and advice to the green Whitman.

I don't think that's going to work out. Whitman, from some reports, is rather combative, much like a recently departed chief executive of Yahoo who took over a business in which she had no experience. But at least Carol Bartz never shoved an employee that we know of. Just sayin'.

Then there's Whitman's quote in the HP statement:

"I am honored and excited to lead HP. I believe HP matters - it matters to Silicon Valley, California, the country and the world."

Is it me or is that comment just a bit self-aggrandizing? Either way, the bottom line (in my opinion) is that Whitman is going to want to do things her way -- even if she has no idea what she's doing. And that's going to spell more trouble for HP, maybe the kind of trouble from which the company won't recover.

HP's conducting a conference call Thursday afternoon to discuss the changes. We'll see what nonsense emanates from it.

Meanwhile, Wall Street's initial reaction isn't exactly joy. Shares of HP (NYSE: HPQ) were down 20 cents, or 0.9%, to 22.80, in after-hours trading, but HP's stock already had fallen nearly 5% in Thursday's regular session as part of a widespread market selloff.

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