by Tom Taulli | October 5, 2012 7:00 am
In the classic book Built to Last, authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras detailed a list of legendary companies that knew how to innovate and build tremendous value.
On the list was Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ). Of course, this now seems like a cruel joke; it appears that HP is headed for history’s trash bin.
No wonder yesterday investors had little choice but to continue to dump the stock, which dropped by 13% to a nine-year low.
So what are the main problems with HP? Well, let’s take a look:
On Wednesday HP’s CEO Meg Whitman gave a presentation to analysts, but it was mostly worthless. She spent a big part of her time blaming past failures.
This, of course, will do nothing to improve things; instead, investors want to know the game plan — but they got mostly fuzzy tech-speak. It really looks like Whitman has not done much over the past year, except think about HP’s history — not its future.
HP is positioned heavily in no-growth businesses, such as printers and computers. Then again, the company has done little to improve its offerings. Hey, have you ever been jazzed about buying an HP computer? Probably not.
This is in stark contrast to decades ago, when the company was the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) of its era. In fact, Steve Jobs looked at HP as an inspiration. He even got his first job there!
As of now, HP has little presence in the hot tech markets like the cloud, Big Data, mobile, virtualization, analytics and security. Whenever such topics are covered, you rarely hear the company’s name.
But HP cannot blame this on its size. After all, other mega tech companies like Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) and IBM (NYSE:IBM) have skillfully found ways to remain players in emerging markets.
Meg said that HP has starved the R&D budget and also has under-invested in its own internal technology systems. Yes, this seems like a recipe for failure for any tech operator.
While it will certainly help to devote more resources to these areas, it will not be a panacea. R&D is unpredictable and can take a while to get traction. This is especially the case when it gets tougher to recruit talented employees, which is likely the case for HP.
True, a way to rebuild the company is with smart acquisitions. This has been the strategy for IBM, Oracle and even Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).
But there are some challenges for HP. First of all, the company has a terrible track record with deal-making. Just look at such losers like Palm and Compaq.
What’s more, HP does not have the firepower to pull of transactions. The company has net debt of $20 billion and a market cap of only $29 billion.
According to Whitman, it will take anywhere from four to five years to recover. But this is really an eternity in the tech world.
In the meantime, HP’s competitors will continue to innovate their products and get market share. So in the end, what will be left? It’s a horrible position to be in.
I think HP can be saved. Just look back to 1994 when Lou Gerstner saved IBM. He quickly sold off assets and significantly cut back headcount. But more importantly, he had a compelling vision for the company. That is, he focused on building a global operator that combined high-end services with top-notch software. It turned out to be a huge winner and IBM now has a market cap of $240 billion.
But as for HP, Whitman has no clear-cut strategic plan. She’s just wants investors to trust her.
No doubt, this is absolutely frightening and tragic — and a almost sure sign that HP is doomed.
Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPOPlaybook, a site dedicated to the hottest news and rumors about initial public offerings. He is also the author of “How to Create the Next Facebook.” Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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