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HP soldiers on without a head

No one follows the Hurd

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The world's longest public job interview for the chief executive officer position at a Global 25 corporation dragged on for four hours today because Hewlett-Packard did not announce a replacement for ousted top dog Mark Hurd ahead of its security analysts meeting in San Francisco.

Interim CEO and chief financial officer Cathie Lesjak has said she didn't want the job since Hurd was shown the door on August 6. Lesjak was a little nervous opening up the meeting - and the audience was no doubt primed for fireworks that did not go off - but settled down when she moved away from talking about vague strategies and making bold statements (the kind of things a Hurd or an Ellison might spout off about) and got around to talking about numbers. She will no doubt be happy to go back to being the chief bean counter once HP's board decides on who will take over the president, CEO, and chairman positions at the IT behemoth.

It is a tough job convincing a skeptical Wall Street analyst community that a headless company is functioning properly, but Lesjak and her peers running the Enterprise Business; Enterprise Servers, Storage, and Networking; Personal Systems Group; and Imaging and Printing Group went through the HP fundamentals in a calm fashion - and as a team. And that, perhaps, in the long run is a more useful and powerful message to HP's employees, customers, and investors. Even if it is a lot less exciting than when Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, or Steve Ballmer are on stage, generally being sarcastic.

Everyone has been speculating that Ann Livermore (who runs Enterprise Business), Dave Donatelli (who works for her running ESSN), Todd Bradley (who runs PCs), and Vyomesh Joshi (who runs printers) are all vying for one or more of the top jobs, but after sitting through more than four hours of the meetings, it might be wise to put Tom Hogan, executive vice president of enterprise sales for the Enterprise Business, into the hunt. Hogan cut his teeth in the IBM AS/400 midrange, and worked at Siebel Systems and Vignette running sales and speaks as well as the four executives mentioned above.

The message that Lesjak wanted to drive home is that HP is accelerating its investment in research and development as well as sales and marketing in fiscal 2011, which begins in November, at a rate that will be faster than revenue growth. Since Hurd left HP, the company has been slammed for not investing enough in R&D.

"Innovation is, has been, and will continue to be at the core of HP," Lesjak said emphatically, adding that HP had spent more than $16bn on R&D in the past five years. Lesjak warned that R&D is not attributed evenly across the company, and Livermore said that R&D spending in HP's systems, storage, and networking business had grown in the double digits this year, for instance, as the company rolled out a lot of new products.

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