HP: Genius need not apply (for now)

Sep 2, 2011

On Monday we saw how Steve Jobs genius is clearly an important element of Apple’s success. On Wednesday we saw that for Google, the opposite is the case – for them, Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s genius is highly problematic.For another company, HP, genius is currently out of favor. Though painful (and detrimental, obviously to their growth plans) this isn’t surprising. In fact, HP are trapped in a common dynamic: the reactive CEO appointment.

This works much the same way as most election cycles: the electorate (or in this case, the board), stung by the actions of the former incumbent, elect someone new who exhibits diametrically opposite skills and attitudes. Just as Carter begat Reagan, Thatcher begat Major and Hirobumi begat Kiyotaka, so it is with corporations.

Here’s the specific cycle for HP (leaving out two very short-term interim CEO’s who were only there briefly as placeholders):

Carly Fiorina – Visionary.

Mark Hurd – Operator.

Léo Apotheker – Processor.

Essentially, Mark Hurd’s mistake was to not take HP far enough away from Fiorina’s glitz ‘n glamor Visionary style – although he is an Operator, he still possessed a vision and a passion for it. Unsurprisingly, their next option was to go for a dispassionate Processor in the steely, systems-centric Herr Apotheker.

As events this month have shown (including this mess and this one), genius isn’t exactly stalking the corridors at HP right now, and under the current leadership. won’t be anytime soon.

The good news is that the cycle will change again – eventually. Once HP’s board gets it act together – also a stretch, unfortunately – it will undoubtedly swing toward the next appointment being a Synergist.

Until then, sadly, genius needn’t apply.