It remains to be seen if HP CEO Meg Whitman’s five-year turnaround plan will work.
But, amidst the shrinking revenues, profits and layoffs, there’s been one relative bright spot: the Networking unit.
While revenues at nearly every other business unit have slid, the Networking unit has grown for 15 quarters, says the woman running the 6,000-person unit, Bethany Mayer.
That growth has much to do with Mayer, the executive who took over the job as Senior Vice President and General Manager, Networking in May, 2011, when Leo Apotheker was still CEO.
A few months later, in September, 2011, HP dismissed Apotheker and hired Whitman. Over the next two years Whitman would reorganize the company a few times, including a change in August where Mayer’s boss, Dave Donatelli, head of the enterprise hardware division, was set aside.
Through all that, Mayer has stayed put. Not that she’s been perfect. In the last quarter revenues dropped slightly. They were $US644 million compared to $US647 million in the year-ago quarter. Even so, revenues in her division are up 1% in the first three-quarters, $US1.87 billion compared to $US1.85 billion in 2012. While 1% doesn’t sound like much, most of HP’s units were down by 1-4%. (HP will report its next earning, Q4 2013, on November 25.)
Her scrappy success isn’t an accident. Mayer told Business Insider that she essentially had a six-month job interview. She was offered the job while standing on the tarmac of the airport in Belize in the last hours of a vacation. Just before she boarded the plane, her then boss, Donatelli, asked her to run the networking division on an interim basis while they looked for someone permanent.
The catch was she had to continue to do her other full time job, as vice president of marketing for the whole Enterprise Servers, Storage and Networking (ESSN) division at the time.
“I looked at my husband and he said, ‘You have to say yes,'” so she did. In October, 2011, they officially offered her the post.
It’s a technical job but she’s not an engineer. She studied political science as an under grad.
She slung-shot that into a 30-year career in tech working at Apple in the 1990’s, then Cisco, then other networking companies until she landed the ESSN marketing role at HP in 2010.
One of the first things she did as boss of her own networking unit was to push HP firmly into a brand new networking market called software defined networking (SDN).
SDN is a big threat to the king of the networking business (and HP’s arch-rival) Cisco because it promises to change the way companies build networks. It takes the high-end features built into routers and switches and puts them into software that can run on cheaper hardware. Corporations still need to buy routers and switches, but they can buy fewer of them and cheaper ones. The software lets them build networks faster and manage them, too.
She knew HP had to jump in after she saw the a demo of the tech at HP Labs by HP Fellow Charles Clark. “I never saw anything like that and I’ve been in networking since 1993,” she said. “We had to move R&D budget around to make it possible.”
Cisco will next month will finally show off its first product in the area. But Mayer beat Cisco to the punch. HP’s existing networking gear has been supporting SDN for a year, and its first major SDN product went on sale last month, October.
As for how Mayer has managed to grow her HP business while the rest of the company has been in constant turmoil, she says it’s all about the people.
She’s a big fan of one-on-one meetings. She also has weekly brainstorming meetings to discuss trends and new products to pursue, and she’s quick to share credit with others, even to Whitman or the board, she says.
“My door is always is open. Just like Meg’s. Her door is very open door and she’s really responsive on email. She reaches down in the organisation a lot and they reach up and she acts on things. That’s the HP Way,” Mayer says.