June 24, 1999 8:45 PM PDT

Compaq board undecided on CEO, AltaVista

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Compaq board may get CEO short list

June 23, 1999
Compaq's board of directors faced a full plate of issues today, ranging from review of likely CEO candidates to whether to sell a controlling stake in AltaVista to CMGI.

But at the close of the regularly scheduled meeting, the directors walked away without tabling any decisions, sources said.

"The board is leaning toward approving the CMGI deal but nothing was approved," said one source.

Separately, the board received a short list of a couple of CEO candidates for the first time, but made no steps toward final selection, sources said.

Both matters have been scrutinized by Wall Street observers of the troubled PC maker. "It's interesting from my perspective that the two issues [CEO search and AltaVista] are concurrent," said Philip Rueppel, an analyst with BT Alex Brown.

However, "If a company is doing poorly, their plate is usually full, and Compaq fits into this category," Reuppel said.

"Most board meetings are boring. You authorize which auditors to go with, discuss the budget, and sometimes talk strategy," added Lou Mazzuchelli, a hardware analyst at investment banking firm Gerard Klauer Mattison, who noted that most of the difficult work has already been hammered out by the company's CEO search committee and the executives who oversee AltaVista's strategy.

A Compaq spokesman would not comment on AltaVista-CMGI negotiations. Other sources say they could extend into next week.

Houston-Texas-based Compaq has certainly struggled of late. The company says it expects to post back-to-back quarters of surprisingly disappointing results, sales have been sluggish, low-cost PCs have cut into profits, and a high cost-structure has taken a toll.

These events led to the ouster of then-chief executive Eckhard Pfeiffer last April and the subsequent search for his replacement.

Board members who had yet to receive a short list of candidates from the search committee were likely to get a glimpse of potential candidates today. And industry watchers anticipate an outsider will soon be selected.

One name often mentioned in CEO searches is George Fisher, chief executive at film giant Kodak. Fisher, who has experience running a Fortune 500 company and background in the tech world, having worked at Motorola, is planning to step down from his CEO post at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that John Zeglis, president of AT&T, and Gregory Brenneman, president of Continental Airlines, are the front runners for the Compaq spot.

Paul Otellini, general manager of the Intel Architecture Business Group, has had his name bandied about as a potential Compaq CEO candidate, but sources say it's unlikely.

Intel sources say Otellini wants to stay in California and may instead be a candidate for the vacant CEO position at Hewlett-Packard.

A three-member office of the chief executive is handling Compaq's day-to-day operations. During this period, a host of changes have taken place, from an announced reorganization of business units, a management exodus that has seen more than a half dozen executives depart, and, of course, the potential sale of a controlling stake of AltaVista.

"Traditionally, the board doesn't get involved in micro-managing a company. They rather tend to look at whether management is accomplishing the goals of the company," Rueppel said. "It's been interesting to see how the interim committee has made such strategic decisions."

For example, the interim group, headed by chairman Ben Rosen, appears to be reversing an earlier announcement in January to spin off AltaVista in an initial public offering.

"The deal is probably being driven by CMGI, more than the Compaq board," Mazzuchelli said. "But I think it's a good thing that they're looking at doing this and focusing on their core business."

Despite the workload, the task of taking up one weighty issue, holding a discussion, and then moving onto the next should not be difficulty, Mazzuchelli said, as the board is a fairly homogenous group.

News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.

 

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