HP picked former SAP CEO Leo Apotheker as its new CEO, a move that surprised many in the industry but that doesn’t particularly surprise us. The criticism of Apotheker stems largely from the fact that his tenure at SAP was hardly stellar; the company lost market share to Oracle throughout and he was unable to stem the tide. But truth be told, the problems at SAP were more related to the conservatism of SAP’s marketing processes and board, something that Apotheker had little chance of changing.
This is a software age in IT, and also an age where software and hardware form a one-stop ecosystem. Who should HP have picked? A hardware guy from within? That’s bad on two counts, given companies’ tendency for internecine warfare and given that hardware isn’t where it’s at. Who has succeeded against Oracle? Nobody. Apply both those truths and you have no candidates at all. Apotheker actually understands the role of software well, and understands the relationship between software and all of the competitive hardware platforms. He’s the best choice they had, in our view, but he’s also a good choice.
He’s not a perfect choice. The missing skill is networking, the understanding of which is critical to position the hardware/software ecosystem for virtualization in the data center and beyond it, in the cloud. We think that networking is the card that HP will need to play against Oracle and against IBM as well. True, Apotheker has no evil preconceptions in the space, but he doesn’t have the broad grasp of the current market issues, or at least hasn’t demonstrated that grasp. Given that Cisco’s entry into the datacenter IT space has already started to force competitors like IBM to give more thought to a networking mission, and given that HP has networking products already, exploiting networking is not only essential, it’s something that has to be done in the short term. Can Apotheker do that? We don’t know at this point, and if he can’t do it or find someone to delegate it to, then HP will face some challenges.