Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Video: Former CEO Carly Fiorina Gives Tentative Thumbs-Up to HP Shake-Up

It didn’t take long for commentators watching last week’s dramatic turn of events at Hewlett-Packard to hearken back to another equally dramatic shift at that company, under another controversial CEO: Carly Fiorina’s epic fight to acquire Compaq Computer in 2002.

Some critics have said that this deal was the beginning of the end for the old HP, and indeed, Fiorina had to fight off a proxy challenge from shareholders — and from the company’s own board of directors, which opposed it. It has been nine years and change since that deal closed, and Fiorina lasted less than three years from that date.

A lot has gone on at HP since then. Mark Hurd has come and gone as CEO, and HP acquired EDS to bolster its IT services business. It has endured a boardroom spying scandal. It acquired Palm, and now plans to shut down its webOS business, after dismal sales of the TouchPad at Best Buy. Fiorina went on to get involved in politics, working for John McCain’s presidential campaign; then ran for, but did not win, a seat in the U.S. Senate.

And now HP’s Personal Systems Group (PSG) — the $40 billion (2010 sales) unit that combined HP and Compaq into a business that was big enough to eclipse Dell — is on its way out of the tent. HP said it is exploring “strategic options” for that business, which could include a sale to another company or maybe a spinoff to a buyer like Samsung. In a way, you might say that by spinning off the PSG, HP is undoing a big piece of Fiorina’s legacy.

Naturally someone thought to put Fiorina in front of a TV camera and ask her what she thought about all this. The video below is from Fiorina’s appearance yesterday on Bloomberg West, the new West Coast tech-heavy afternoon show produced at Bloomberg’s studio in San Francisco.

In the clip, Fiorina shows some sympathy for CEO Léo Apotheker and the need to drastically remake HP into something different from what it is now. She would know. She talks about another change that occurred on her watch: The 1999 spinoff of Agilent Technologies, the former HP Test and Measurement unit, the legacy of which went all the way back to the company’s 1939 founding in a Palo Alto garage, and as such was controversial among the rank and file. Agilent is still around, and reported a $684 million profit on $5.4 billion in sales last year.

No matter. CEOs have to think about the future, not the past, Fiorina says during the interview. In 2001, when the Compaq takeover was first proposed, the PC market was on the rise, and Dell seemed an unstoppable juggernaut. Now that HP is the world’s biggest PC maker, and Apple’s iPad has done permanent damage to the prospects for long-term growth in that marketplace, it’s time to look to the future once again. “Every CEO and board has to make a judgement about the future, not the past,” she says.

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