Global CIO: HP CEO Apotheker Has Deep Expertise But Checkered History - InformationWeek

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Commentary
9/30/2010
07:10 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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Global CIO: HP CEO Apotheker Has Deep Expertise But Checkered History

HP is highlighting Leo Apotheker's experience but his ouster from SAP 8 months ago was marked by widespread customer unrest, product snafus, and awful morale among employees.

Hewlett-Packard's clearly excited about new CEO Leo Apotheker, noting that he was a "driving force" behind SAP's growth, a "strategic thinker" with "proven operational discipline" demonstrated across his two decades at SAP, and remains "a leader in anticipating the transformation taking place in our industry."

I wish HP and Apotheker well as they embark on what is without question an incredibly important new chapter for HP and in the wake of several weeks of relentless questions about the company's board, its leadership, its strategy, its stock price, and its prospects. (See my colleague Alex Wolfe's news story on HP's much-anticipated announcement here.)

With 300,000 employees and a proud history and deeply strategic engagements with thousands of large corporations around the globe, HP has been and will very likely continue to be a source of vibrant technological innovation, aggressive competition, and laudable corporate citizenship.

And perhaps Leo Apotheker will far exceed HP's expectations for him to be the visionary seer and disciplined manager and transformational force.

Perhaps. And perhaps not.

Let's take a look back just eight months ago at the state of SAP when Apotheker was ousted by chairman Hasso Plattner at a time when the company had clearly lost its way in the market, was getting hammered by Oracle, seemed unable to get vital new products out the door, and was frighteningly out of touch with its customers.

I know, I know—HP is not SAP, and perhaps Apotheker heroically salvaged what he could at SAP, and maybe without his self-sacrifice the company would have unravelled completely and been acquired by NetSuite. All things, as they say, are possible.

Two examples of possibilities that turned into realities during Apotheker's final months as CEO: Oracle certainly found it possible to dramatically close the gap between it and SAP in enterprise-applications market share, and SAP customers found it was possible to threaten mass rebellion when SAP announced an across-the-board hike in annual maintenance and support fees, a potential disaster from which SAP backpedalled.

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Here was the state of SAP at the time of Apotheker's ouster in early February: Plattner said SAP had lost the trust of its customers and its partners, and that SAP employees were "not happy" employees. He said the company's development models were outdated. You can read extensive analyses of Plattner's comments, as well as his verbatim remarks themselves, in these two columns: Global CIO: An Open Letter To SAP Chairman Hasso Plattner and Global CIO: SAP's Last Chance: It's The Customers, Stupid!.

To me, though, the most-dangerous of all the troubles swarming SAP at the time of Apotheker's departure was the stunning disconnect that existed between, on the one side, 99% of SAP's customers, and on the other side, Apotheker and Plattner. Here's how I described that disastrous schism 8 months ago when Apotheker was forced out and co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann-Snabe were appointed:

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