The Business On... Meg Whitman, Hewlett-Packard


The comeback queen?

On the verge of being named chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, according to reports last night. Yes, the former eBay boss and failed gubernatorial candidate is about to sip from the poison chalice of tech, taking over the C-suite of the world's largest computer manufacturer.

What about whatshisname?

Leo Apotheker, the blink-and-you'll-miss-him chief executive? In less than a year at the helm, he presided over a 47 per cent share price fall and a strategy review that horrified investors. The rumour that the board was considering firing him sent the shares soaring, and when you find out your chief exec is worth minus-$5bn, you kind of have to fire him. That's two major tech companies he has been fired from in three years (the last one was German software giant SAP).

Why Whitman?

She wanted it. I'm not being facetious – the fractious HP board has a habit of undermining and then firing its CEOs, which makes hiring tough. Ms Whitman joined HP as a non-exec this year, and she is keen to rehabilitate herself after a humiliating run for Governor of California last year.


Ms Whitman dipped into her $1.3bn fortune to fund the most expensive electoral campaign in history and still lost. Revelations she had an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper rather undermined her anti-illegal immigration stance. One assumes her keenness to get back into business means she no longer hopes for the vice-presidency slot in a Mitt Romney-style White House bid.

Is she qualified to run HP?

Oh, that little matter. Neither was Mr Apotheker, who was a software guy. Ms Whitman at least has a robust CV, including a stint as a consultant at Bain Capital, where she met Mr Romney. She started out in sales at Procter & Gamble and she joined eBay when it had just 30 employees. As for running a hardware company managing a difficult transition to software and services – well, investors will take some convincing.