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HP: Let's Give Peace & Meg a Chance

Fixing Silicon Valley is More Important than the 2012 Election

The gold bubble has burst. The dollar is up, and the price of oil is down. All that nasty talk about replacing the dollar as the world's currency has abated for now. Good. Maybe we can get back to the basics of business.

But there are some things rotten in America.

Rose-Garden Politics
Politically, the United States seems to be in an era similar to the English Wars of the Roses, in which two powerful families seem so intent on killing off each other off that they make take the nation down with them. Flying the blue-rose banner, the Kennedy-turned-Clinton dynasty.

Under the red rose, the Bushes. We cannot rule out a Hillary Clinton vs. Jeb Busch election in 2016, and it's still not certain that a Kennedy will never again aspire to the White House.

As divisive as the political scene is - and yes, it can also be compared to America's own antebellum era - at least it can be explained. The country tore itself in two in the 1960s over the Vietnam War and simmering social tensions, and the battle continues in an especially contentious way today.

What's Good for...
But corporate America drives the economy, and nothing will improve until business leaders climb out of their jets to visit places other than Switzerland and Idaho.

This is nowhere more acute than in Silicon Valley, that great driver of innovation and economic progress for the past three decades. What else can explain the inscrutable insanity found recently at HP, Yahoo, Cisco, Netflix, and to some degree even Google and Facebook?

Has something gotten into the water? Is there a stupid-virus going around? Is there a hidden relationship between the fortunes of the San Francisco 49ers and Silicon Valley? Or is life simply too easy for these people?

HP (Grimace, Slap Forehead)
HP is the most egregious example. It's one of the original Silicon Valley companies. It's the original garage company. It was a training ground for The Woz and Steve Jobs. It's the world's largest technology company. And it has been tragically inept in finding an effective CEO for years. It is not unfair to say, in my opinion, that HP has become a decadent culture at the top.

Although it's neither nice nor a writer's job to say someone should be fired, and I sure don't want anyone to say that about me. But Mark Andreessen should be fired from HP's board. His recent, breezy encomium in the New York Times about how software is "eating" the world dismissed the hardware business and touted all the software investments he was making personally.

Does he now wish to take any of this back given that HP's software-and-service-only strategy has blown up on the launch pad? As he leaves, he should no doubt take any number of other HP board members with him out the door.

To Govern or To Lead
Which leads to HP's new CEO, Meg Whitman.

Meg ran a disastrous gubernatorial campaign in California, highlighted by a story of firing her illegal maid that provided a classic rich-person stereotype - entitled, cloistered from society, mean-spirited when things hit the fan.

She also provided a details-free plan about how she was going to fix the state's problems, other than firing 30,000 state employees (which a governor would not be allowed to do) and removing the state's horrible $800 small-business filing fee (an idea I loved but which applies to a very small number of people).

So What? Can She Run HP?
So she failed as politician. Many business people do. She must be happier now, because she has an easier job with better pay.

Word has gone around for years about the dysfunction of HP's board (no matter who's on it), and a very public fight broke out during Carly Fiorina's reign that has never been fully resolved. Maybe there will be a new era of peace with Meg.

Can she run HP? I don't know, but I did know (along with every other sane person) that Leo Apotheker could not.

We all know that Meg has no experience in running an enterprise IT company. But she surely bought a lot of enterprise IT at eBay. And she started her career as one of those consultants who convince big companies to overpay for IT.

If Meg can act less regal than Fiorina or Apotheker, and less horny than Hurd, she might just make it (if newly retitled Executive Chairman Ray Lane doesn't decide he's really running the company).

Remember, Lou Gerstner took over IBM with no experience in the enterprise IT business, and promptly declared that the last thing the company needed was a vision. Strong, controversial words, that made many question whether he was in over his head. It turns out he wasn't.

So let's give peace and Meg a chance.

***

Postscript
I don't know Meg Whitman personally. I'm about the same age as her, and I think I'm taller than her. And though I didn't get this job, I'm OK with that. I don't bear Meg any ill will.

Anyway, I'd probably do something stupid like listen too much to the WebOS fanatics or get nailed uttering cynical comments about how vendor lock-in drives services and runs the enterprise IT industry. So the HP board probably made its one and only wise decision in recent years by not giving me a shot at the job.

Meg got off to a poor start, in my opinion, by using her failed political Twitter site to tweet about her new job. But as Larry Ellison said in effect, while dismissing Jonathan Schwartz during the Sun takeover, great blogs are nice, but business execution is what counts. I'll try not to get too hung up over Meg's Twitter account.

It's more important to ask: Can Meg become less aloof? Can she forget that she doesn't need the money, and work work work as if she does? Can she focus on operations and not get distracted by new acquisitions (eg, Skype)? Is she the real deal or just another lucky phony? Perhaps most important, what if Ray Lane decides to turn on her the way he did on his old friend Leo Apotheker, and Mark Hurd before that? Will Ray allow Meg to run HP?

There's no Steve Jobs here to return and rescue the enterprise from the clutches of a Sculley, Spindler, or Amelio. Meg really needs to get it right. Ray really needs to let her.

If she does, we can only hope there are others out there like her to run Yahoo, Cisco, and Netflix (and maybe Google and Facebook). The economy and nation depend on it. Forget the 2012 presidential election - what's going on now in Silicon Valley is more important.

Finally, if there's a connection between the success of the 49ers and Silicon Valley, then we have one more reason to encourage Larry to buy the team and fire the Yorks. Immediately. 

Follow me on Twitter

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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