One thing that's gnawed at me for years is one word under the Hewlett-Packard logo on Page Mill Road in Palo Alto: "invent." Not only is it lowercase, diminishing the word's stature and its call, but it's also oxymoronic in the context of the new HP.
This came to mind again last week with the firing of HP CEO Carly Fiorina and the attendant finger-pointing and gnashing of teeth. Carly blew it with the Compaq merger. Carly didn't schmooze Walter Hewlett. Carly this. Carly that.
Blame Carly? Hooey. Blame the board. It elevated Lew Platt to CEO in 1992 and signed off on his manic notion of spinning off the "invent" in HP as Agilent in 1999. Blame it again for hiring a smart salesperson to run a high-tech company with handcuffs on. Fiorina played the hand that was dealt her.
Innovation is not about trying to find economies of scale with a Compaq merger and owning the "solutions" space, whatever that means. It's not about milking a successful printer business that the Chinese will own in five years. It's understanding that the technology paradigm moved long ago from computing to communication.
So who's next, ex-Compaq chief Mike Capellas of MCI? Ed Zander of Motorola? Yawn. A marquee name won't save HP. It'll have to be someone in the mold of those supposedly weak-armed college quarterbacks the scouts rate poorly but who succeed on will and guile. You'll find those managers in the semiconductor and nanotechnology startup world.
But the game's really over for HP. When it is inevitably broken up and sold off in pieces, the merciful thing would be to sell the name Hewlett-Packard to an entity that can rightfully use "invent" in its branding campaign and reclaim its birthright: Agilent.
Brian Fuller is editor in chief of EE Times.