Some Bad News For Meg Whitman

 | Sep 18, 2012 | 1:30 PM EDT  | Comments
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In Monday's Wall Street Journal, there was a big story about how Meg Whitman was seeking to breathe new life into HP (HPQ).

Whitman now declares that the first company-issued PC she received from HP after she was appointed CEO was "a brick." I'm wondering if she hadn't seen any PCs while she served on the board of HP prior to getting selected as CEO after the whole Leo Apotheker debacle.

She points out that she realized the need to shake things up in PCs, so she's gotten personally involved and asked some tough questions.

The article suggests that HP's PCs had become staid and confusing to consumers because they all had different looks, due to HP's strange bureaucracy and multiple teams duplicating their efforts and not sharing knowledge.

This appears to be a strange indictment of one of her top lieutenants: Todd Bradley.  He was the head of HP's PC unit -- called PSG -- for several years prior to Meg's arrival as CEO. If PCs are such a disaster, then isn't that Bradley's fault? Yet, he's still on the executive team and responsible for that group.

In fact, during the time that Mark Hurd was ousted, Bradley's name was mentioned several times as a possible insider replacement for him. Isn't that strange if Whitman now thinks the PC area produces bricks, is full of too much bureaucracy and not competitive?

The second problem with Whitman's complaints is her solutions. She thinks it's better design. She thinks if HP can just be as good at design as Apple (AAPL), they'll bounce right back. That's a bit like saying if only Subaru improved their design, they could create Maseratis.

It's an overly simplistic view of the world to think you can come out in a Wall Street Journal and announce that you're going to improve your PCs with better design in a snap of the fingers. Everyone in the PC unit, including Bradley, will be sore about this for a long time.  "Uh, thanks, Meg ... we thought of that a long time ago," will be the comment made by many over the water cooler.

It also raises the specter of one of the biggest fears about Whitman since her hiring: she has not hardware/software experience. She's a consumer Internet person who worked at Hasbro (HAS) and Bain before that. What does she know about PC design (other than that she's used a PC in her life)? How is she qualified to transform HP into the next Apple? You don't just snap your fingers and make that happen.

It's OK to identify problems that need to be fixed in a big company like HP, such as its suffocating bureaucracy. It's not OK to offer up insults and platitudes as solutions.

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