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Following nearly two months of intense speculation since the sudden resignation of Mark Hurd, HP late Thursday announced the selection of former SAP head Leo Apotheker as its new CEO and president.
Apotheker himself is no stranger to sudden changes in the executive suite, having himself unexpectedly resigned as CEO of SAP in February. (For insight into Apotheker's history and what he's likely to bring to the HP job, read our Global CIO analysis, "HP CEO Apotheker Has Deep Expertise But Checkered History.")
HP characterized Apotheker's 20 years at SAP as positioning him ideally for the HP gig. "Leo is a strategic thinker with a passion for technology, wide-reaching global experience and proven operational discipline--exactly what we were looking for in a CEO,” said HP board member Robert Ryan, in the press release announcing his selection.
Apotheker himself didn't provide any hints as to the direction he'd take HP, following Hurd's often-stormy tenure. "As we move forward, HP will continue to be a valued partner with our customers as well as a fierce competitor," he said in the HP press release. "I look forward to working with the outstanding people at HP to write the next chapter in the company’s long and proud history.”
HP is coming off of a solid third fiscal quarter, in which it reported revenue of $30.7 billion and an operating profit of $2.3 billion. It has also recently forecast a healthy 2011.
Nevertheless, the company, which is the largest purveyor of computer technology in the world, is playing in an intensely competitive sector. IBM and Oracle -- the latter coming off its recently completed acquisition of Sun Microsystems -- have HP firmly in their respective sites. Both have put a big stake in the ground in the emerging area of optimized systems. These are tuned computing systems which combined server hardware and enterprise software , in a package which delivers performance which far outpaces conventional set ups.
On the marketing front, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has made himself the face of his company's optimized systems effort. Perhaps that's one reason some industry analysts expected HP to pick a high-profile candidate for the CEO post. Apotheker while not the most charismatic executive, certainly fits the profile of a seasoned leader who's done time in the command chair.
On the data center front, HP has gone with a strategy called the Converged Infrastructure as a play to tap into enterprise customers' desire to put their computing architectures on a "2.0" generational footing. HP's go-to-market approach bundles its servers -- such as HP's popular BladeSystem blade offerings -- with storage and networking. HP has recently increased the heft of its networking portfolio, adding its $2.7-billion acquisition of 3Com to its in-house ProCurve brand.
Over the next decade, stoked by the need for server consolidation, the infrastructure 2.0 market will be an intense battleground. HP faces competition from IBM's Dynamic Infrastructure approach, which was recently and smartly placed under the "Smarter Planet" banner. Dell's portfolio is dubbed the Efficient Enterprise. Cisco, which recently used its networking beachhead to launch a foray into the server space, rolls everything up under the umbrella of Unified Computing.
While Apotheker may face a learning curve on the hardware front, his heavy hitting enterprise-software experience could help HP make new inroads in that market -- some at the expense of his former employer.
That's consistent with the take of Stuart Williams and Ezra Gottheil, analysts of Technology Business Research Inc. In a note e-mailed Thursday evening, they opined: "The experience Mr. Apotheker brings in running and selling an enterprise software company is directly beneficial to HP. Given the strong margin contribution of enterprise software, TBR believes Mr. Apotheker will reinvigorate the Software portfolio under the HP Software and the Enterprise Server, Storage and Networking divisions as a highly profitable lever that can help to quickly lift overall HP profitability. The appointment reinforces the perceived importance of outside experience in running the software business following the hiring of ex-Microsoft executive Bill Veghte as the head of the HP Software and Services division."
HP will hold a conference call Friday morning to provide more details on the selection.
Cathie Lesjak, who served as interim HP CEO since Hurd's August resignation, will remain in her post as CFO.