Kara Swisher

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Whitman Talks to ATD About New Job at HP: “This Is an Icon”

Yesterday — right after she took over the reins at Hewlett-Packard — high-profile Silicon Valley tech exec Meg Whitman and Executive Chairman Ray Lane got on the phone with me to talk about her new gig.

In the interview, which took place just before her debut — well, re-debut with investors, since she ran eBay for a decade — Lane said he approached Whitman for the job sometime after she joined the board eight months ago, because he felt she had the kind of leadership that HP needed and was lacking under now-ousted CEO Leo Apotheker.

Message No. 1 from Whitman, who is very good at delivering messages: “I took this job, because HP really matters to Silicon Valley, to California, to this country and to the world.”

And: “This is an icon and the place where the initial spark to create Silicon Valley came from and I am resolved to restore it to its rightful place.”

And: “I have the skills to do that.” Lane concurred, noting that while Apotheker had focus on defining some of HP’s goals, he lacked the operational, people and communications skills Whitman has.

“Leo was very wise about figuring out what HP needed to do to add value,” said Lane. “But he did not have more important tools we needed, including operational excellence, people skills and communications skills.”

He added: “Meg has all those things … and when we looked around the board room, we realized we had what we needed right there.”

Now that is some fancy CEO talk, for sure, which is why Whitman will surely be the most interesting leader HP has had in a long time.

And the troubled tech giant has had a lot of leaders — seven CEOs since 1999.

Whitman says she is undaunted by those odds and will focus on several major issues at first.

Those include, in the order she put them in (of course, using definitive numbers):

1) Focusing on meeting Wall Street expectations for HP for the next quarter over the next 45 days. “We have made a commitment,” she said. “And we are going to do everything possible to keep it.”

2) Integrating HP’s $10 billion acquisition of Autonomy, which was made by Apotheker. “As you know from my time at eBay, I know a lot about unstructured data and it is a market where no one is a leader except Autonomy,” Whitman said.

3) Come to a decision about whether to spin off or keep its Personal Systems Group, which includes HP’s consumer PC business. “We will not sell,” said Lane firmly.

4) Getting a better feel for HP and its employees. “I have been on the board for eight months, but I really need to get in there and meet its people,” said Whitman. “That is perhaps the most important thing to get right.”

Whitman added that after leaving eBay and her loss in a run for governor of California, she said she found she wanted to get back in the tech game.

“She won that race,” joked Lane, who perhaps is hoping HP will, since it freed up Whitman for the job.

And while she said she enjoyed her short — and brutal — political life, Whitman said she was happy to be back.

“Business is my first love,” she said. “And this is a huge opportunity that I sensed I could do well at.”

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle