HP CEO Search: Tech Giant at Crossroads as Hurd Replacement Sought

By Jessica Davis

Help Wanted: CEO of largest technology company out there. Immediate opening.

Following Friday's surprise resignation of HP CEO Mark Hurd after a sexual harassment investigation, HP has launched a search for a permanent replacement to lead the company. And it won't be an easy task to fill the position with someone as respected in the industry as Hurd. Hurd was widely credited with bringing HP back to its former glory. Popular with customers and channel partners, Hurd frequently met with them, putting a face on technology purchases.

"It's difficult to view Hurd's departure as anything but negative for HP," writes Toni Sacconaghi, senior analyst at Bernstein Research, in a brief report looking at the impact of Hurd's resignation. "Hurd's arrival at HP triggered a marked inflection point in the company's financial performance and his tenure was characterized by massive outperformance in HP's stock."

Still, it shouldn't be difficult for HP to attract some very strong candidates to replace Hurd as CEO. Sacconaghi points out that HP's "attractive location (Palo Alto, Calif.), extraordinary history and brand, and huge revenue base (largest of any tech company globally)" will make it easy for the company to "attract an extremely talented individual. While HP has not provided a timeline for finding a new executive, we note that [Carly] Fiorina resigned February 9, 2005 and Hurd started as the new CEO less than 2 months later."

Sacconaghi says that it's more likely for HP to choose an external candidate than an internal candidate, although several names have been floated as a possible replacement from within with some smart money on Ann Livermore. Certainly, an internal candidate aligned with Hurd's strategy may be perceived as continuing with his legacy that has proven so successful for HP over the last five years.

And it's a critical time for that strategy. HP is battling it out in the field to win deals for end-to-end data center technologies, from servers to networking to PCs to storage to mobility. Cisco is offering the same kind of lineup and going head-to-head with HP in the trenches. VARs have told Channel Insider that the competition between the two companies is the nastiest it has ever been in the field. Plus, there's speculation that Hurd could join an HP competitor, further complicating matters for HP at a crucial time in industry history.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of talented individuals external to HP who could lead the company going forward, and it's a job that many will covet.

This article was originally published on 2010-08-09