Arik Hesseldahl

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“The Narrative Lags the Reality” in HP Turnaround Effort, CEO Whitman Says (Video)

Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman argued once again for patience in her effort to get her troubled company back on its feet, saying that what people say and think about the company now is several steps behind the company’s actual condition.

“The narrative lags the reality,” Whitman said in an interview at The Wall Street Journal’s CIO Network conference in San Diego. But the narrative will only change as the company delivers on results that she has promised. Having taken more than $17 billion in combined write-downs for the acquisitions of EDS and Autonomy, 2012 has been portrayed by Whitman and HP CFO Cathie Lesjak as the year during which all the bad news was tackled, and 2013 is to be the year when the arduous work of repairing the company begins in earnest. Whitman sounded a note of confidence: “We’ve got the right people in the right jobs at the right time, and you can feel it. … But we have to be patient.”

Whitman also said that HP “paid too much” for Autonomy, the British software company for which it spent north of $11 billion in 2011. About $5.5 billion of HP’s $8.8 billion write-down announced in November was attributed to that acquisition. Whitman reiterated HP’s argument that Autonomy misrepresented itself, making it appear to be more valuable than it was, and fooled auditors at Deloitte who were vetting Autonomy’s books. “The auditor wasn’t exactly a Brand X auditor, and did you ever dream that the financials would have represented the true financial state of the company?”

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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