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Leo Apotheker is out and Meg Whitman is in as CEO of HP, less than a year after Apotheker was appointed by the company’s board to replace its last ousted CEO, Mark Hurd.

HP issued a statement announcing Meg Whitman’s appointment as president and CEO after the markets closed on Thursday. In addition Ray Lane moves from non-executive chairman to executive chairman of the board of directors, and will appoint a lead independent director.  HP’s statement said the appointments, effective immediately, “follow the decision that Leo Apotheker step down as president and chief executive officer and resign as a director of the company.”

Former eBay CEO and California Gubernatorial candidate Whitman will face a number of serious challenges at the outset, from proving herself as CEO at the largest technology company in the world to taming the firestorm created by unpopular strategic moves to inspiring confidence in HP’s channel partners and customers in the midst of a period of unsettling instability.

“We are fortunate to have someone of Meg Whitman’s caliber and experience step up to lead HP,” said Lane, in the prepared statement. “We are at a critical moment and we need renewed leadership to successfully implement our strategy and take advantage of the market opportunities ahead. Meg is a technology visionary with a proven track record of execution. She is a strong communicator who is customer focused with deep leadership capabilities. Furthermore, as a member of HP’s board of directors for the past eight months, Meg has a solid understanding of our products and markets.”

Lane thanked Apotheker on behalf of the board and said: “The board believes the job of the HP CEO now requires additional attributes to successfully execute on the company’s strategy. Meg Whitman has the right operational and communications skills and leadership abilities to deliver improved execution and financial performance.”

Lane’s statement indicates that the board was unhappy with Apotheker’s communications skills and execution, not his strategy. A New York Times report today said the board plans to stick with the initiatives put forth by Apotheker in August – discontinuing its tablet efforts, buying the software firm Autonomy for a huge premium to put the focus on software and services, and potentially spinning off its PC business. HP is the market share leader for PCs.

Now, as HP switches lead horses in mid-strategy, many are questioning the competence of HP’s board of directors.

“Our conversations with major shareholders also indicate that they have been disgruntled with the board, given it has made and approved a series of decisions (Hurd’s firing; Leo’s hiring; approval of the Autonomy acquisition; the premature announcement of the exit of the PC business) that many shareholders believe were poor decisions and misaligned with their interests,” wrote Bernstein Research Analyst Toni Sacconaghi. “…The fact that the board’s discussions were once again leaked to the press (as was the Autonomy deal, PC exit; and various internal memos written by Leo this summer) further casts a specter around the board’s credibility and the uniformity of agenda among its members.”

Indeed, some think the appointment of Whitman as CEO is also premature.

“We would view any decision not to conduct a comprehensive search of internal and external candidates for a permanent CEO role as unsatisfactory and unnecessarily hasty,” wrote Sacconaghi, in his report issued the morning of Sept. 22. “We also believe that shareholder reaction to Whitman as a permanent CEO would be mixed.”

Sacconaghi notes that Whitman’s limited technology background and uneven track record managing eBay count as strikes against her.

Ovum Chief Analyst Carter Lusher noted that Whitman’s appointment would do little for the confidence of HP’s enterprise customers.

“Whitman’s expertise lies primarily in the consumer market,” he said.

Lusher had this recommendation for HP customers:

“The scenarios for HP and its customers range from poor, to bad, to worse. Ovum recommends that CIO and IT organizations assign a ‘risk premium’ to dealing with HP demanding that HP respond with better discounts, pricing, or packaging. CIOs should also explore new terms and conditions that protect the company should HP be broken or experience major disruption to its business.”