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Ex-Microsoftie software hotshot Ozzie joins HP board

Former CEOs at McDonald's and Liberty Media bring biz and consumer smarts

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HP needs to understand consumers better and build a software business as well, so it has added three more board members to help CEO Meg Whitman's ongoing turnaround of the IT giant.

Ray Ozzie, of Lotus and Microsoft fame, is no doubt the most important addition, but given the experience of two other new board members running Liberty Media and McDonald's, maybe HP will get a little more clued in to consumers.

The seats on the HP board of directors – which has had more than its share of governance issues in the past decade – opened up back in April after chairman Ray Lane, a former bigwig at software giant Oracle and a managing partner at venture capitalist Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Buyers, stepped down from that position after a vote of no confidence from HP shareholders.

At that time, Lane remained on the board, but two other board members – G. Kennedy Thompson, who used to be CEO and chairman of the financial services giant Wachovia (now part of Wells Fargo), and John Hammergren, chairman of healthcare company McKesson – stepped down after their terms ran out in May after getting tepid re-election votes.

In a statement, acting HP chairman Ralph Whitworth, the activist investor who runs Relational Investors and who has pumped $800m of that equity firm's dough into HP stock, said that the company will add more directors and is also still seeking a permanent non-executive chairman to replace him.

Ray Ozzie is the first coming aboard on Monday, and he is significant because of his own entrepreneurial and software-development skills. This is particularly important for an HP that is trying to build up its software business while at the same time finding its footing in the consumer markets as the PC market undergoes tectonic shifts.

Ozzie helped create distributed operating systems at Data General back in the early years of the minicomputer and Unix revolutions, and then helped create the VisiCalc spreadsheet at Software Arts (eaten by Computer Associates) and the Lotus Symphony analog of Office before setting up Iris Associates, an affiliate of Lotus Development Corp that was responsible for creating the Notes/Domino messaging, groupware, and application development platform. IBM bought Lotus for $3.5bn in 1995 as it was coming out of its own near-death experience, one of the largest acquisitions it has ever done.

Ozzie then formed Groove Networks to take groupware up another notch, and sold it to Microsoft in April 2005. At that time, Ozzie also became Redmond's CTO, and was then appointed chief software architect in June 2006 as founder Bill Gates started backing away from the company.

Ozzie held that role until 2010, took a break, and then started up a company called Talko last year to create consumer-facing mobile applications with an Amazon Web Services back-end.

The two other board members that HP added today may not have the same tech cred that Ozzie brings to the oak table, but they are not exactly slouches, either.

Robert "Dob" Bennett, who was the president and CEO of cable and other media conglomerate Liberty Media from 1997 through 2005, has hopped onto the good ship Whitman; he currently serves as a director on the boards of Liberty Media, Discovery Communications, Sprint Corporation, and Demand Media.

The third newbie to the HP board is Jim Skinner, a retired vice chairman and CEO at fast food chain operator McDonald's. Skinner joined McDonald's as a restaurant manager trainee in 1971 and was CEO by 2004, so it is possible to move up through the ranks at massive corporations. (It is just wildly improbable.) Skinner is currently non-executive chairman at drug store chain Walgreens, and has been on that board since 2005.

Hopefully they can find time to help HP.

"As we move forward with our turnaround, it's a huge benefit to be able to get advice from a board made up of such experienced business and technology leaders," said Whitman in the statement. "For their part, Dob, Ray, and Jim have just about seen it all during their careers. I'm very grateful for their support, as well as the ongoing support from all of the directors." ®

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