Mother Meg, the matron saint of eBay, is now settling in as den mother of the Hewlett-Packard boy and girl scouts. HP has always been known as the "do gooders" of Silicon Valley, long before Google's "Do no harm" slogan came into vogue. Hopefully, with the help of a relatively new board -- four of which are women -- she can bring the longstanding "HP Way" back to its roots as the guiding principal of the company.
She's got a tough road ahead. After three CEOs in six years, HP needs adult leadership and a sustainable strategy -- neither of which were in abundant supply during the past decade. On the other hand, coming in as the fourth CEO after a string of less-than-stellar prior chiefs might give her the room to roam.
While many might deride some of the decisions she made at the helm of eBay during her later years there, few can argue that Whitman created real value at the web auction company. When she joined privately held eBay in 1997, the company posted $4 million in revenue. At her departure in 2008, the now public company had grown 200-fold, to $8 billion in sales.
In many ways, Whitman's skills and experience could be a great match for HP. She was brought in to eBay for her notable marketing expertise -- something that HP as an engineering-dominated company has always lacked. The old joke was that if HP had to sell sushi, the sales force would advertise it as, "Wanna buy some cold, dead fish?" Moreover, Whitman has always believed in metrics, another HP passion, leading to a popular saying at eBay, "If it moves, measure it."
By most accounts, Whitman is a decisive, if low-key, leader who has a talent for listening to her troops and actually getting things done. Critics cite Whitman's power-hungry bent and consequent "angling" for the CEO role at HP. And in California, her failed bid for governor did more to win her enemies than friends. It showed a rough and ruthless side that most observers hadn't seen. Frankly, I think that most CEOs have at least some degree of psychopathic DNA and a strong need for control. After all, how many truly humble CEOs do you know?
If more women, like Whitman, actually reach out and grab such a high profile job like CEO of HP then perhaps we are actually moving toward equality in the corporate (boy scout) world.
This post first appeared on Forbes.com
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