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Five outsiders who could lead Hewlett-Packard

Chris Kanaracus | Sept. 25, 2011
Having gone through a rash of CEOs in the past 10 to 15 years, Hewlett-Packard may soon find itself looking for yet another new chief.

Having gone through a rash of CEOs in the past 10 to 15 years, Hewlett-Packard may soon find itself looking for yet another new chief, despite just tapping Meg Whitman for that job this week.HP's announcement Thursday of board member Whitman as its insider choice to replace Leo Apotheker after less than a year came under fire from some who believe that the company should have named an interim leader and conducted an executive search. "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," analyst firm Sanford Bernstein wrote in a research note this week before Whitman was named. "We also believe that shareholder reaction to Whitman as a permanent CEO would be mixed."

HP decided against conducting an outside search because it wasn't necessary, board Executive Chairman Ray Lane said Thursday. But having just conducted the search for Apotheker, HP still had a good idea of who was available and "if we thought there was a better choice on the outside, we would have conducted [a new] search," Lane said.

But if Whitman doesn't last, here's a look at some potential outside CEO candidates HP could pursue down the road:

1. Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive, software and systems, IBM.

Mills' name came up regularly as a potential HP CEO after Hurd left the company. In addition, he would bring broad-based experience to HP thanks to his current role, where he oversees IBM's software and hardware strategy and manages more than 100,000 employees.

Mills was also at IBM in the 1990s, when the company went through a similar transition as HP is going through now, said Frank Scavo, managing partner of IT strategy consulting firm Strativa.

On the minus side, Mills wasn't CEO at the time, Scavo said. "He didn't lead that, he participated, but it's still an interesting choice."

In addition, Mills only gained control of IBM's hardware business last year, giving him less experience in that arena than software.

This aside, "Steve is definitely CEO material," said analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research.

"He's actually one of the best managers in the business. He's managed their mergers and acquisition strategy and has done a good job of aligning those with industries and back to services," Wang added.

However, "I don't know if it's likely for him to go to HP," Wang said. "They'd have to try really hard to bring him aboard, given they've been fierce competitors."

2. Marc Benioff, CEO,

The outspoken and flamboyant Benioff "really is a tech visionary," said Forrester Research analyst Paul Hamerman. " is one of the most innovative companies from a technical standpoint." In addition, "he's a great communicator," Hamerman said.


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