Lessons In Leadership: Meg Whitman Saved HP And HPE

Ask any Hewlett-Packard Enterprise or HP partner and they will tell you without equivocation that HPE CEO Meg Whitman is responsible for one of the all-time great turnarounds in corporate history. It’s hard for anyone to realize just how far both companies have come over the past six years without bringing yourself back to the days before Whitman took the helm.

As one of HPE’s top partners recently put it, HP was at that point a “sinking ship.” The company had effectively been decimated by predecessors who had put it on the path to oblivion with foolish acquisitions and a product portfolio suffering from lack of vision and R&D investment. When Whitman took the helm, HP was a $127 billion dinosaur saddled with $12.5 billion in debt and a partner network that was ready to jump ship to competing vendors. You couldn’t have written a worse scenario for an executive from outside the insular world of the IT industry to step into.

That made no difference to Whitman. She simply applied the management principles that had served her well throughout her career. Here are some of the key lessons that can be learned from her management playbook.

1. Set Out A Plan And Do What You Say You Are Going To Do. Whitman’s first order of business was putting in place a five-year plan that included diagnosing in year one, fixing and rebuilding in year two, recovery and expansion in year three, acceleration in year four and industry-leading company in year five. Partners say Whitman has absolutely hit the mark for all of those key measures.

2. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Unlike many leaders who become less visible in times of turmoil, Whitman stepped up at every phase of the turnaround and clearly communicated the strategy and her expectations for employees and partners. That is no small matter when you look at all of the big moves she and the board made to drive two new industry-leading companies into their own.

3. A Relentless Partner Commitment. Key to Whitman’s success is a big bet on partners that has paid off for both HPE and HP. Whitman realized that the partner sales engine is critical to winning in the IT business and she made sure she and her management team were 100 percent committed, going the distance with sales calls and help, and robust incentives so partners could drive sales growth.

4. Successful Succession Planning. Absolutely no CEO has done a better job in the technology industry at succession planning than Whitman. Antonio Neri, who will become the next CEO of HPE effective Feb. 1, has the technology vision and channel commitment to take HPE to the next level. HP CEO Dion Weisler’s strong track record since taking the helm of HP speaks for itself.

There is an old saying in the channel: If Hewlett Packard is healthy, then the channel is healthy. Thanks to Whitman, HPE and HP are healthy and thriving — and so are their partners.

BACKTALK: What do you think of Meg Whitman’s leadership lessons? Contact at Steven Burke at sburke@thechannelcompany.com.

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