Can CEO Meg Whitman Find Time to Run Hewlett-Packard?

It’s no mystery why CEOs make huge amounts of money. The good ones have unique skill sets, combining leadership, a strong sense of anticipating market trends and seemingly flawless execution. But they possess something else that’s often overlooked: good time management.

Only a few CEOs — like Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) former boss, Steve Jobs — have the mental bandwidth to micromanage a global operation. Things get even tougher when a company is experiencing big-time problems.

A prime example is Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ). The company has terminated three CEOs in the past six years. It’s a veritable executive Bermuda Triangle.

The latest CEO to walk through the Hewlett-Packard turnstile is Meg Whitman. And she has a stellar background. She was critical in building eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) into a dot-com powerhouse. She also had executive positions at companies like Hasbro (NASDAQ:HAS), FTD and Disney (NYSE:DIS).

And Whitman’s compensation at HPQ? An annual salary of $1 — OK, and a big slug of options, too. She definitely believes in the upside.

But a troubling announcement came out this week: Whitman joined the board of a dot-com start-up company, Zaarly, that has created a marketplace that allows people to post offers — say, to have their house cleaned or find someone to teach them how to play the drums. It’s kind of like a next-generation craigslist.

Doesn’t Whitman have enough on her plate already as the head of a $50 billion market-cap company? Not to mention Whitman also serves on the boards of Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) and Zipcar (NASDAQ:ZIP). Her time seems crunched as is.

Whitman needs to figure out how to stabilize Hewlett-Packard and repair the company’s loss of confidence with investors, as HPQ stock has lost about 40% of its value this year. She also needs to determine whether to keep or unload the company’s PC business, as well as come up with a software strategy that can deal with intense competition. HP recently spent $10 billion on Autonomy, which will be at the core of this segment.

It’s a lot of work, and Whitman definitely has a history of success. But if she continues to pile up the outside distractions, she might be setting Hewlett-Packard up for another leadership failure.

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 “All About Short Selling” and “All About Commodities.” Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the aforementioned stocks.

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