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Updated What kind of fool would leave Apple's second-in-command job to run Hewlett-Packard? Probably not chief operating officer Tim Cook, but that is the rumor running around the Intertubes right now, and it has spooked Wall Street.

HP is hosting its financial analysts meeting in Palo Alto this afternoon, local Silicon Gulch time, and there is a fever-pitch of expectation that the IT giant will announce a replacement - or perhaps replacements - for former president, chief executive officer, and chairman, Mark Hurd. Numerous online biz rags are quoting investor rumor site The Fly On The Wall as saying that Cook will leave Apple to take over the CEO job at HP.

Cook's name has not come up on a short list of possible outside candidates as Hurd's replacement, just because it seems so preposterous that HP would be able to woo away Steve Jobs' right hand man. There is a fair chance that Cook could do the job, despite his focus on consumers instead of companies, especially with the help of HP insiders who certainly know corporations and what they want from IT. HP surely could use a little flair. But that said, this Cook-as-HP-CEO rumor is totally unsubstantiated at this point.

Regardless of whether or not this is the correct strategy for HP - and you can only tell in hindsight - most people think that to save face, HP will have to select one, two, or possibly three executives from its ranks to replace Hurd, distributing power and responsibility in a more sensible way. (Some of us at El Reg think that HP should never have given Hurd or any one person all three titles, consolidating power into one person and making succession unclear.)

The most logical and also the most boring thing for HP to do, especially after having been burned by two outsiders - Carly Fiorina and Hurd - is to pick its three best people to occupy those jobs. A case could be made for HP to make Scott Stallard, who took his first job as an engineer at HP in 1975, who graduated from Stanford like HP's founders, and who used to run HP's server and storage businesses until he retired, the chairman of the HP board. Ann Livermore, who runs HP's Enterprise Business unit (everything but PCs and printers) would be the likely CEO candidate, and either Vyomesh Joshi, who runs HP's imaging and printer group profit center, or Todd Bradley, who runs personal systems, could be president. Or, HP could make the two of them co-presidents, in Oracle fashion.

Soon after leaving HP because of some follies with expenses, Hurd became co-president at Oracle, sharing the role with Safra Catz and taking marching orders from Oracle CEO, co-founder, and Hurd tennis buddy Larry Ellison.

Wall Street was not amused by the idea of Cook leaving Apple or RIM launching its own business-class PlayBook competitor to Apple's iPad. As El Reg goes to press, Apple shares are off 1.2 per cent to $287.67. At the open of the market at 9:30 am Eastern, Apple's shares were off 5.5 per cent from Monday's $291.16 close, but have struggled back a bit. ®

Update

Later on Tuesday, after Apple's stock had taken it in the teeth, a report surfaced that the Cook-as-HP-CEO rumor was baseless. But if Carly Fiorina should lose her bid to become a US Senator...

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