Meg Whitman has been at the helm of HP for the last five months.Last week we asked HP employees to weigh in with an assessment of their new boss, and how she’s been handling the scandal-plagued company.
Having been burned by the past three people holding the corner office, HP employees are guarded in their review of Whitman.
They know her CEO credentials are good, but not perfect. When Whitman joined eBay in 1998, it was a $4 million company with 30 employees. When she left in 2008, it was an $8 billion giant with 15,000 employees. During her tenure, Whitman routinely landed on “best CEO” lists and was even inducted into the U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2008.
But she was no turnaround queen. EBay’s growth slowed during her later years. And her $2.6-billion purchase of Skype in 2005 famously flopped.
So what do her current employees think about Whitman? Read on to find out …
Several employees told us that Whitman and her boss, Executive Chairman Ray Lane, like to play up their close relationship. 'I've never seen or heard Meg without it being 'Meg and Ray' yucking it up. I don't know who is running the company...Ray? Meg? Ray and Meg? Ray and Meg and the Board?' said one. The employee said this doesn't make him trust Whitman more. 'Annual reviews were just completed. I received another 'Consistently Exceeds.' My bonus was down 30%. My stock grants were down 60%, not to mention the deterioration of the value of a share. Over the past four years my base comp was reduced 5% for two years. (That's from a Hurd mandate to please shareholders and the Street),' he told us. 'Other than finally getting the 5% back, I've received a single 3% raise. That's 3/4% per year. Are people happy? Hell, no. Nothing has changed, and there are no indications of any hopeful outlook in the future for HP employees.'
We heard a lot of hopeful messages from employees, too. They want Whitman to succeed but are not convinced.
'I am cautiously optimistic,' one told us. 'She appears to understand the basics and has a good head for dealing with organisations and people. She won over the sales force. She's investing in our research and development with money and her attention. She turned around a room of 40 angry vice presidents in under 30 minutes about HP and its future.'
Plus several employees noted with glee that Whitman 'told the executive team they need to sit in cubicles not big offices with doors.'
They like that Whitman smiles. She's personable. 'She appears to be enjoying what she's doing and willing to be with the people. (This is a shift from the last two CEOs).'
'Overall for the time spent so far, I give her high marks.'
Many employees also told us that 'Whitman has a lot of dysfunctional business groups to clean up.'
They are concerned that she can really lead a company as large and as conflicted as HP.
'She needs to win over some non-U.S. countries. (She comes across very Silicon Valley),' one said. 'She still has a lot to learn about this large and complex company; without understanding the details, strategic decisions can be faulty.'
Between her decade at eBay and her run for California Governor in 2010, Whitman has plenty of public speaking experience. And it shows to her employees. Dozens of them described Meg as a great communicator:
'She is smart, personable, and articulate … so I think most of us have a 'connection' with her,' said one.
'She says she's going to do something by a certain date and she does it. She looks at a situation through insightful eyes and wisdom. She comes across as a people person. She doesn't pretend to know the answer if she doesn't,' said another employee.
'Meg has great strategic vision and industry connections and credibility, and more importantly, she is a straight-shooter and has reasonable, realistic expectations all around,' added another.
Employees warned that they won't be convinced of Whitman's ability until she cleans up some of the employee mandate mess made by Hurd.
Under him they suffered pay cuts and were forced to work from home with no compensation for their expenses, they said.
'HP is a company in trouble,' an employee told us. It has 'an utterly loathsome hierarchy constantly at war with itself. A bloated bureaucracy internally focused suffering from malignant narcissism. Customers are an afterthought and an annoyance. It has great plans, spreadsheets and PowerPoints with miserable execution and a culture of dishonesty and evasiveness. Meg may or may not be able to help.'
Many employees applaud Whitman's $1 annual salary, noting that she is a billionaire, according to Forbes. But they also wonder why she took the job.
'The biggest question on Meg is what is her motivation for doing this?' asked one employee. 'She has enough money and with the run for governor has enough name recognition. What is going to drive her to push HP innovation and truly do the heavy lifting that is needed to turn HP around? Right now she seems like a distant, very nice cheerleader. Time will tell if she is truly going to drive innovation and a consistent strategy especially for the services organisation.'
Another told us: 'Appreciated that she is taking a nominal $1 salary (but not deluded that other benefits/options could be substantial).'
While employees are happy that Whitman 'is definitely reaching out more to employees' some say she hasn't done much to fix an 'underlying culture' described as 'still toxic.'
'HP has become a tops down hierarchical company that gets driven by the finance organisation scraping every penny they can. Innovation and empowerment is mostly smoke and mirrors,' an employee told us.
Others think she can fix the culture given enough time. 'There is a hollow feeling within the soul of the employee base ... Meg Whitman seems to be the type of leader that will nurture the trust and passion in the employees back to health. It won't be easy, there has been a decade of abuse at the top to overcome.'
Employees told us it didn't take a genius to keep HP's PC business and to open source the WebOS, but they are glad she did. They viewed these as Whitman's first tests.
'She made the right decisions ... given the hand she was dealt. Keep the PC business, complete the Autonomy purchase, and resolve the WebOS problem,' one told us.
'So far, her actions seem to have been pragmatic and smart. Don't know about having so many folks reporting directly to her but the PSG and WebOS decisions were sound,' said another.
'The decision to keep the PC division was the right one. The decision to open-source WebOS makes sense -- it still has potential and she kept the door open for HP products to use the platform,' another told us.
Some employees who were disappointed initially are being won over.
'I first read about Meg when her book came out. I thought the book rather self-serving then realised why when she began her most-expensive-political-campaign-of-all-time not long after. NOT impressed by the Nannygate handling; too Leona Helmsley. So rather disappointed when she was named CEO. Laughed at the Twitter jokes ('Wasn't Sarah Palin available?). At the first employee meeting, thought she smiled a lot with just her mouth and not her eyes. (After all this time, we can't go by what they say anymore, so body language is our best clue.) BUT. So far, her actions seem to have been pragmatic and smart.'
Several employees told us that the HP board is as much of a problem as the revolving CEOs.
'She has a long road ahead and a lot of problems with the executive council and HP in general. However most of us are happy that the drama has died down. We have to see how the board acts because the problems start there. Will they get cold feet after a bad quarter and reverse everything to make Wall Street temporarily happy? Will they get into more of their own drama? Are they really going to invest in product development or keep slapping their name on other people's products from China?
All told, employees like Whitman, even if they won't fully trust her.
Said one: 'As for Meg, I think she's doing all the right things. She's delivering on her commitments, engaging with customers and employees and relying on her bench for their acumen and leadership in setting the right course for HP. I like her (and I don't even agree with her politics -- so that says a lot for me.). In fact, just yesterday, I was thinking -- now that I know her better (apart from my previous knowledge of her, which was primarily driven by her political campaign) -- despite our political differences -- if she ever ran for office again, based on what I've seen here at HP, I'd vote for her.'