How To Lose The H-P Way

When Hewlett-Packard announced that it was essentially getting out of the PC business, my reaction was WTF??? Looks like a lot of people felt the same way:
Investors abandoned Hewlett-Packard Co. after its plan to get out of the personal computer business left serious questions about the technology company's strategy.

H-P Shares plunged 20% Firday to $23.60, erasing about $12 billion in market value and leaving the stock near six-year lows.

H-P shocked investors Thursday when it said it is looking to sell or spin off its PC business, the world's largest. It also agreed to pay more than $10 billion for British soft ware maker Autonomy Corp.
H-P is one of the largest PC makers in the world, a position it earned in part through the bruising (and expensive) Compaq merger of 10 years ago. Not saying that was a genius move, but if turning your back on that was also a turning your back on one of the defining moments in the company's history. Plus, it's a multi-billion dollar business. Maybe it's not the wave of the future anymore, but it's something.

The rationalization is that this is a post-PC world of tablets and smartphones, so it's best to get out of the hardware business now before it's too late. (Here's H-P board member Marc Andresson's defense of their strategic decision making). That may be, but it's hard to imagine that PC's are simply going to disappear, any more than we are going to see the rise of the paperless office. Adding to the confusion, H-P also announced that it was confronting the brave new world of tablets by ... getting out of the tablet business.

Anyway, it's a mess. As others have noted, H-P recent losses have erased entirely the gains they had under former CEO Mark Hurd, who lost his job after tripping over the company's peculiar approach to business ethics. You can talk grandly about how special your company is, but often the "H-P Way" is little more than a way for the Illuminati to assert their will.

Whatever the merits or demerits of the Compaq merger (and eventually it became more an exercise in ego and "doing the deal" than it was a business decision), you didn't need the "H-P Way" to tell you that buying a PC maker would be expensive and messy.

You didn't need the "H-P Way" to tell you that spying on journalists and H-P board members was a bad idea and border-line criminal (although it was funny that H-P's most determined compliance hounds were its most enthusiastic spies).

And you certainly didn't need the "H-P Way" to tell you whether your CEO's clumsy sexual interest in an aging blond was a firing offence.

Also, you don't need the "H-P Way" to make a decent printer. Have I mentioned my traumatic experiences with H-P printers yet?

The "H-P Way" should be like Google's "Don't Be Evil:" a cute little mission statement that is also a good bit of self-aggrandizing PR. But, H-P actually seems to make long term strategic decisions based on it. Why not toss the I-ching while you're at it? Like GM before, H-P has a business that has (temporarily) allowed it to print money. But, also like GM, H-P is unique in its industry for its combination of size and management flailing.

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