John Paczkowski

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HP’s Chief Communications Officer Put on “Special Assignment”

A minor, but unusual, executive shake-up at Hewlett-Packard.

Bill Wohl, the former SAP executive tapped as HP’s chief communications officer earlier this year, has been reassigned. Sources close to the company say HP’s corporate communications department will now be reporting to Marty Homlish, the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

An HP spokeswoman would say only that Wohl has been put on a “special assignment,” the exact nature of which couldn’t be learned. Sources say that Wohl’s title has not changed.

Wohl was brought in earlier this year in order to be the communications voice of CEO Léo Apotheker, and the two worked closely together at SAP, where Wohl worked for 12 years and where Apotheker was co-CEO from 2008 to 2010. A source said the two have what Apotheker has called a “deep personal relationship.” Wohl’s job was to work closely with other executives related to corporate communications and essentially represent Apotheker’s voice, both internally and externally. Wohl’s job as chief communications officer was newly created by Apotheker. Previously the top communications job was positioned as many as three layers below that of the chief marketing officer.

The move left a lot of people familiar with the operations of HP’s corporate communications shop scratching their heads. So sudden a change only eight months after Wohl’s appointment, and coming as it does after HP’s significant strategic shifts last week, makes it appear that Wohl has lost some favor with Apotheker.

From the outside, it seemed like HP struggled to get ahead of events as news of its plans both to acquire Autonomy for $10 billion and spin off or sell its PC business were leaked to Bloomberg News early on the morning of Aug. 18.

Occurring also as it did on the day that HP was due to announce earnings, the leak seemed to force HP into what looked like damage control mode. With HP shares taking a beating, the company rushed out a press release 58 minutes before the close of markets, announcing earnings and confirming all that had been reported earlier in the day. HP shares were killed the next day, falling more than 20 percent.

An internal memo obtained by the trade publication PRWeek (subscription required) described the “special assignment” as intended to more effectively tie the company’s software to “broad company positioning.” But with all that as a backdrop, it makes it hard to see today’s move as routine.

Meanwhile, Lynn Anderson, a marketing VP in HP’s Enterprise Systems Group, will be running the corporate communications team day-to-day.

-With Additional reporting by Arik Hesseldahl

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