Hewlett-Packard Disarray as It Fumbles IBM Strategy

Aug.19.11 | About: HP Inc. (HPQ)

Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) CEO Leo Apotheker thinks he was done-in at SAP. He thinks that if he'd been given a little more time his strategy for the company would have worked.

That strategy of focusing on enterprise software and services is now working for his old company, which is growing smartly while bringing nearly one dollar in six to its bottom line.

But HP is not SAP. And Apotheker pursued his SAP strategy as a number two man, not as CEO. He's like a football coordinator who has trouble when moved to head coach. (Think Rod Marinelli, right.)

Apotheker's ouster from SAP in 2010 (around the time of that year's Super Bowl, hence the footie references) followed his failure to lift prices, a wholesale rebellion by customers, and huge market share gains by rival Oracle.

He'd been head man there for eight months. (Yeah, I know. Art Shell? Makes sense, since the HP board is about as inept as Al Davis. Try your own analogies in the comments.)

Apotheker has now been at HP for less than a year, and he has already dumped the company's webOS tablet and phone business, announced he would sell the PC business entirely, and decided to buy Autonomy, a UK-based enterprise software house, for almost as much as Google paid for Motorola Mobility.

Taking over his old home would be impossible now, because investors have reacted by sticking HP's valuation down to the level of SAP, despite a 10% haircut in the latter's valuation. If things keep going this way, maybe SAP will buy HPQ.

The first time I wrote about HP, back in June, I suggested a complete break-up of the company in order to extract value for shareholders. The model, I said, should be IBM. Most comments disagreed but in the end Apotheker seems to have taken my advice.

Trouble is his timing is awful. You don't start passing the ball in a hurricane.

It took William Clay Ford three years to fire Marinelli. I don't think Apotheker is going to get that much time. Until this company gains a clear direction and a manager with the timing to execute (you pull the trigger when the market says to do it, not when you want to) steer clear.

Disclosure: I am long IBM.