Commentary

Whitman Yielding CEO Position At HPE To Technologist Neri

Meg Whitman, the CEO who led the split of Hewlitt Packard into two companies in 2015, is stepping down as president of Hewlett Packard Enterprise in February after six years of leading the technology company through its difficult transition. HPE president Antonio Neri, 50, a more technically oriented executive at the Silicon Valley pioneer, will succeed her.

HPE’s stock was down more than 7% on the news in after market trading — partially on the retirement news but also on a disappointing forecast that that it would produce earnings of only 1 to 5 cents a share in the current quarter. 

Overall, HPE has enjoyed a 71% increase in its stock price for the last two years, Tony Owusu reports for TheStreet, after Whitman separated Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard's 76-year-old company into HP, which still sells the personal computers and printers that it made its name on, and HPE, which markets commercial computer systems, software and tech services.

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“Whitman had hinted that she was looking to step back from the CEO position after narrowly missing out on the top job at Uber this summer. At the time, she said that she had achieved the main goal she set when becoming CEO in 2011, of turning around a company that was losing ground in all its main markets,” reports Richard Waters for Financial Times.

“She first tried to hold HP’s disparate businesses together, before spinning off the company’s printer and PC division into the new HP Inc. and shedding its software and services businesses through combinations with other companies. In a statement on Tuesday, Ms. Whitman said the original HP had become ‘four industry-leading companies that are each well positioned to win in their respective markets,’” Waters reports.

What’s next for Whitman? That depends on whom you believe.

“Let me be the first to speculate this outcome — Meg Whitman, Democratic nominee, presidential race 2020. I can't wait for the Whitman-Trump debates. It’s going to be absolutely spectacular,” O’Shares ETF Investments chairman Kevin O’Leary said on CNBC's “Closing Bell” yesterday, CNBC’s Michelle Fox reports. “Watch it happen. She's running for president.”

But “Whitman threw some cold water on the speculation Tuesday, however, saying in a statement that she has no plans to run for public office,” Fox continues. (And Robert Mueller may, of course, throw some cold water on the Trump side of the equation down the line.)

Whitman ran for governor of California as a Republican in 2010 — spending a reported $140 million of her own money in the campaign — but lost to Jerry Brown.

Whitman, who formerly led eBay, may want to take some time to recoup after a dizzying half-dozen years. Indeed, that’s what she indicated she’d do in a phone interview with the New York Times’s Steve Lohr .

“Her plans, she said, are not yet set. Ms. Whitman said she would take time off and go skiing, and she is the incoming chairwoman of Teach for America. Other than that, Ms. Whitman said, ‘I don’t know,’” Lohr reports. “She added: ‘I’ve been working straight for 35 years. I’m going to enjoy some downtime.’”

When she took over, “Hewlett-Packard ‘was an enormous conglomerate,’ Whitman said, that confused customers because it sold too many disparate products,” Fortune’s Jonathan Vanian reports

“Even after its massive split from HP Inc., HPE continued to shed off pieces of its business it deemed non-essential,” he continues. This included, as Whitman detailed in an analysts’ call, “several complex deals like HPE spinning off its software business to United Kingdom IT company Micro Focus, and spinning off and merging its IT services business with IT company Computer Sciences, thus creating a new company called DXC Technology. During Whitman’s tenure, HPE also unloaded its Indian IT outsourcing unit Mphasis to the Blackstone Group,” Vanian writes.

“The company has also sought to strengthen its remaining businesses with a handful of acquisitions, including the $1.1 billion purchase this year of Nimble Storage, a start-up and a leader in the fast-growing market for so-called flash storage,” the NYT’s Lohr points out.

Bloomberg Technology’s Gerrit De Vynck and Natalie Wong observe that “since 2009, 19 female CEOs of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies have stepped down. In only three of those cases was she replaced by another woman. … [Whitman’s] departure brings the number of female CEOs in charge of S&P 500 companies to 25, or 5%.

Says Whitman: “We’ve got a very good leadership bench. We’ve got strategy that’s crystal clear and focused. The next CEO of the company needs to be a deeper technologist, and that’s exactly what Antonio is.”

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