It is just about possible to regard Meg Whitman’s decision to split Hewlett-Packard in two as consistent. Her first move when appointed three years ago was to keep the whole thing together but now may simply be a better time to attempt a separation than the rushed effort by Léo Apotheker, her predecessor.
All the same, despite the greater discipline and focus that Ms Whitman has brought to HP since Mr Apotheker’s unhappy period at the helm, the underlying logic was relentless. HP is no longer the technology growth stock it once was so all roads tend to lead to corporate re-engineering.
“Real business value”, “industry-shifting technology”, “unsurpassed innovation” or “accounting improprieties, misrepresentations and disclosure failures”? Or both?
Hewlett-Packard’s accolades for Autonomy’s technology are drawn from an HP “fact sheet” which is helpfully included in the “related links” HP provides from Tuesday’s withering online statement about an $8.8bn impairment charge. Most of the charge relates, HP says, to alleged improprieties at the UK software company the US group bought last year.
The announcement brings back into the open the sort of concerns that dogged Autonomy as Mike Lynch, its co-founder, built up the business – and that he always dismissed as untrue.
The appointment of Meg Whitman today to replace Léo Apotheker at Hewlett-Packard is a resounding blow to Mr Apotheker. But it also reflects very badly on the hapless HP board.
I was very critical of Mr Apotheker’s abrupt change of course in August, arguing that he had “needlessly alienated investors by thrusting so much unpalatable information and future uncertainty on them at once. He should have taken things steadily rather than making a big bang.”
But what was HP’s board doing by appointing him less than a year ago, agreeing to his strategic shift, including a spin-off of its personal computer division, and then turning round and jettisoning him after the market reacted badly?