The world's largest technology company by revenue and the outfit that birthed Silicon Valley has very suddenly and unexpectedly put out a figurative "help wanted" sign.
After parting ways with CEO Mark Hurd on Friday over inaccurate expense reports and claims (that have been since been settled out of court) of sexual harassment from a former marketing contractor, Hewlett-Packard is already on the hunt for someone to fill his shoes.
The decision was shocking to Wall Street and the tech industry, and has taken some flack. Hurd's success at the company in his five-year tenure is well-documented, but it wasn't enough to get his board to overlook his violations of the company standards of business conduct policy.
As a result, the board of directors has the unenviable task of finding a suitable replacement to soothe investors, inspire employees, and ring up sales to customers. The job description, according to board member Marc Andreessen: "Someone with very strong leadership capabilities, both outstanding strategic and operational skills. Willing to consider internal and external candidates."
We've already hazarded educated guesses as to the top contenders for the position, but it's useful to think about the ideal qualities in a candidate HP should be considering.
So what should they look for? Here are the suggestions of people whose expertise is in management and HP for the search process and identifying the right man or woman for the job.
Don't target a boy scout/girl scout
An easy temptation after losing a leader over an ethical breach is to find someone who's the opposite--someone perceived as beyond reproach morally. Of course, that's basically what HP thought it was getting in Hurd when they raised him to chairman after Patricia Dunn stepped down amid the pretexting scandal of 2006.
Upstanding executives are always a good thing, but HP shouldn't target someone only because they're known as "a boy scout or girl scout," said Dave Logan, professor at the USC Marshall School of Business. "The problem is they don't want to end up with a Jimmy Carter. No disrespect to the former president, but they don't someone with good morals but who's ineffective."
Do your due diligence
On the other hand, HP's executive search committee should also not overlook the professional situations the candidates they are considering are coming from. "It's not enough in my mind for the new CEO to have a spotless reputation. It's important that none of the companies with which they've been affiliated has had scandals in the past," said Jo-Ellen Pozner, assistant professor at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.
"Unfortunately, I have done extensive research on executive career outcomes after scandals and after speaking to boards and headhunters, they often don't do that type of due diligence. They look at someone's CV and don't take the next step. It's important that the person they choose doesn't have any skeletons in their closet, but also find someone who knows how to run the company and do it well."
Get a personality
Sure, charismatic Carly Fiorina didn't go over so well at HP. But that doesn't mean there isn't room for a CEO of HP whose temperament and personality lie somewhere between Hurd and Fiorina. Plus, HP isn't the same company it was a decade ago either, and it could be time to try this again--especially when they're planning to compete more directly against Apple and its cult-hero CEO Steve Jobs with smartphones and WebOS.
"Obviously they want someone who can make sure the operations stay on track," Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds said. "But there's room for a little bit of flair, a little bit of Steve Jobs in the person. Not too much, but there is the opportunity to bring in someone with more of a public persona to drive interest in the company," he said.
Find someone unafraid to innovate
Hurd was a numbers guy, an "operational nerd," as author Anthony Bianco put it recently. That can translate to successful, which Hurd was but also boring. Why not take the chance to get someone in the CEO's office who has visionary qualities? Someone who knows what HP's customers want.
Hurd took the company to the peak of the technology world, acquiring several companies like EDS, 3Com, and Palm and adding billions to its stock-market value.
The next CEO could take that success and push HP to even greater heights if he or she were to expand to new areas of business. Both consumer products and cloud services are some things HP has been looking at, but they could be moving faster, argues Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds.
"Both companies and consumers want to see everything connected together...adding value to their lives and business," he said. "HP plays in all those places but there's an opportunity to build a much bigger story around it."
Andreessen is one of the board members leading the search for Hurd's replacement, and he said right away on the first call with reporters and investment analysts that HP's search committee was already in place.
"We are going to move as fast as possible but we're going to make sure we get the right CEO for the company," he said.
Obviously they should choose wisely, but time is, as they say, of the essence. Interim CEO Cathie Lesjak said nothing will change about its strategy. But there's still some lingering confusion, UBS analyst Maynard Um said in a research note to investors. HP's management "didn't address whether they were looking for a CEO to execute on HP's existing strategy or if there was potential for a different direction for HP under new leadership," he wrote.
And that uncertainty can be debilitating for employees and potentially the person stepping into Hurd's shoes.
HP might believe that its 300,000-plus employees know their marching orders and shouldn't miss a beat, but that's overly optimistic, said Logan.
The first reaction when losing a leader suddenly can be panic and questioning, he said. "If they lose any momentum at all, even for 30 or 60 days for HP that's a matter of life and death."