Hewlett-Packard Co. is hardly a company in the best of health, but it’s showing signs of progress in its efforts to revitalize its organization and reverse its fortunes. Integral to the HP comeback plan are the contributions and value of channel partners, and the HP channel has no greater sponsor than Meg Whitman.
In late 2012 and through 2013, Whitman has traveled the globe to engage channel partners on go-to-market strategies and challenges. She’s spoken at dozens of HP and industry conferences. And, when she’s not personally available, she sends messages through her lieutenants and personal video messages.
Whitman’s efforts aren’t some half-heart public relations campaign; she makes genuine overtures to the channel. Since taking over the CEO post two years ago, Whitman has learned the value partners deliver to HP and its customers, as well as the potential for the channel to contribute more to HP’s success. As a result, she’s made partners a pillar of her recovery strategy.
Whitman is an unlikely channel champion. Prior to becoming HP’s CEO, Whitman was best known for her time at the helm of eBay, an enabler of the gray market, and her failed 2010 bid to become governor California. She’s served on the board of Procter & Gamble and Zipcar, and was a part-time special adviser at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. She wasn’t exactly on channel radar.
Even when she joined the HP board of directors in January 2011, Whitman didn’t get much notice. The attention was on Leo Apotheker, who was halfway through his freshman year and his plan to reshape HP as a software company. And she was an unlikely replacement for Apotheker, who was ousted in September 2011 after a failed tablet launch and the botched acquisition of Autonomy. Many thought Whitman was a placeholder, someone to run the day-to-day operations while they got Apotheker out of the building.
Change — positive or negative — never comes quickly, and Whitman has been constant in her reminders that revitalizing HP will take time. She won criticism for her candor that it would take as much as five years to restore stability. And, even then, HP would emerge as a mature, low-growth vendor.
In addition to poor products, deteriorating competitive position and declining revenue, Whitman has to contend with shattered partner confidence. Fearing the worst, solution providers jumped ship, either switching to alternate suppliers or diversifying their vendor partners to insulate against disruptions. In both cases, HP’s channel performance was hurt.
While HP channel leaders apologized profusely to partners for the missteps and mistakes HP made under Apotheker, and admitted to shortchanging research and development during the Mark Hurd era, it’s been Whitman who’s made the real channel commitment. She set the tone at the HP Global Partner Conference last February when she confidently told partners, “Everywhere I go, I tell our employees, our investors and you one thing: I love the channel. You’re a huge part of our success and a huge part of our future.”
Since then, Whitman has literally circled the global for hundreds of meetings with partners. She evangelizes HP’s strategy to make cloud computing, security and Big Data the technology pillars of the company’s future, and complements to the legacy business of PCs, printers, servers, storage and networking equipment. She’s promised to reduce channel conflict, make it easier for partners to do business with HP, deliver new and innovative products and services, and improve partner profitability.
By many accounts, Whitman isn’t just staying true to her commitments; she’s leading the charge. Partners say Whitman is far more accessible and cooperative than her predecessors going back to Carly Fiorina, and HP channel executives say they have the executive sponsorship to make decisions in the partners’ best interest.
As Stephen DiFranco, vice president of HP’s enterprise channel, told Channelnomics, “It feels like a young company, a nimble company that understands that if we don’t do this better, we’re not going to be here.” He credits Whitman for creating that environment.
As Whitman said at GPC, “The last couple of years at HP have not been easy. We’ve had missteps, challenges and a lot of changes at the top of Hewlett-Packard. But we are making progress. We’re on a journey to turn HP around. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we know what we need to do, and we’re doing it.”
HP is still not a healthy company, but it’s certainly not on its deathbed as many thought in late 2011. Whitman deserves much credit for not just putting HP on the right path, but for her commitment to bringing partners along with HP’s recovery and restoring confidence in the channel ranks. For that reason, Channelnomics chooses Meg Whitman as our 2013 Influencer of the Year.
>> Who would you pick as the most influential person, company or trend in the channel for 2013? Leave a comment or e-mail us at [email protected].
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