Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Walter Was Right? 

One of the great PR battles of recent years was between Walter Hewlett and Carly Fiorina, now former CEO of Hewlett Packard. Carly followed a scorched earth campaign to sell the merger with Compaq, as did Walter to prevent it. One has to ask if Walter was right all along. Carly was the visionary marketer, and no one doubted her capacity and grit to sell her message. Most felt she could make the Compaq merger work, except dissidents led by Walter. But in the end, the merger didn't work, and HP wallowed in mediocre performance too long. The board finally acted.
Carly and Walter's PR battle is a business classic that should be analyzed for years and should be a regular part of PR courses. It shows how different views of a company can clash in public and divide target audiences. In the end, it wasn't a matter of whether Carly was a woman CEO or a visionary. It was a matter of whether her plan for HP worked. The board felt it didn't, and in an era of activist boards, that's a death knell for a CEO.

Interestingly, Michael Dell of Dell Computer was clear-eyed about the merger when it occurred. He confidently predicted the merger would fail and that Dell would clean up. That is what happened. It will be awhile before anyone bets against Dell again.

Now the board says it is looking for an experienced operator who can get HP moving. Apparently, they have had enough of vision.


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