The more things change the more things stay the same.
For example, take the two new chief executives at two of the world’s biggest IT companies and it is doubtful whether anyone will spot any strategy changes.
It is Hewlett-Packard and Compaq which have finally announced fresh blood at the top after starting their searches in March and April respectively.
HP has been able to poach Carly Fiorina from Lucent Technologies where she was president of its Global Service provider business (see related story).
Having spent 20 years with her former employer she is already ideally suited to the HP way of doing things. The new boy amongst her executive colleagues has been there for 10 years.
But she is new blood and she has been selected over strong internal candidates which would suggest HP is ready for a change of direction. In fact it does suggest it, which will make HP look more attractive to investors and analysts, but will not necessarily deliver it.
Fiorina’s opposite number at Compaq has been promoted from within.
Michael Capellas had been with the company for a year, hired as Compaq’s chief information officer, and had been acting chief operating officer since the beginning of June (see related story).
He is already being dismissed as the mouthpiece of Ben Rosen, Compaq’s founder, chairman, kingmaker, and a man who doesn’t hide his desire to control the company.
On the face of it Fiorina has the better job opportunity, and the most freedom.
Hewlett-Packard and Compaq have been in a state of flux over recent years.
Both have been trying to move out of their traditional stomping grounds of hardware and establishing themselves, as IBM has done, as service companies.
While the industry's watchdogs have given the thumbs up for this strategy, they have been less than complementary about the way HP and Compaq have gone about it. Both companies stood accused of moving too slowly and seen their profits reduced as a result.
Both organisations rounded on their chief executives for not bringing them the results they wanted. Eckhard Pfeiffer was forced to quit by Rosen, in April, after a wave of bad results. Several key managers followed him.
Commentators pointed out that the figures were not bad enough to call for his resignation and speculated that he was the victim of a boardroom coup led by Rosen.
The departure of HP's Lew Platt was more orderly. He declared that he was to retire in December after a restructuring exercise was completed. HP was hiving off its testing, chemical and medical products into a separate company and he would manage the break-up then go.
On his right hand has been Ann Livermore, a 17 year veteran of the company and president and chief executive of HP's enterprise computing division. She is credited with implementing HP’s eservices strategy, or Lew Platt’s eservices strategy, depending on how you like to look at it. She was considered a favourite to take over from Platt by observers both inside and outside the company.
Such is Livermore’s reputation that when HP announced it was taking on Fiorina her name was immediately put in the frame for the Compaq job.
Livermore has been quiet since the announcement leading some to believe that she may be headed elsewhere. Peter Wilson, an analyst at Winterborn Consulting, believes that Livermore will go soon after Platt leaves in December.
But the point is HP is already underway with a strategy that has the approval of investors. Securing a highly respected corporate executive, who is not tainted with the existing regime, means HP can continue in the direction it has already planned for itself.
Fiorina has been accepted as being of the right calibre to head up a major corporation (see related story). She has headed up a services business and that is where HP wants to head.
In her old job she was named by Fortune magazine as the most powerful woman in American business. She had been largely responsible for handling the spin off Lucent from AT&T, taking the company public, and buying Ascend.
In naming Fiorina, the HP is hoping that she can accelerate growth, said board member Sam Ginn.
Platt said of his successor: "She has a rare ability to conceptualise and champion clear business strategies while staying focused on achieving operational results. Now is the time for fresh leadership and I think we have made a brilliant choice."
But Compaq was having trouble finding an external candidate. Business Week reported that the Compaq board's tight control over the company made it difficult to attract candidates for the job.
Continental Airlines president Gregory Brenneman, reportedly the Compaq board's favourite for the job, dropped out of the running when he found out that kingmaker and chairman Ben Rosen, would want to keep a strong control over the way the company is run.
Top management at General Electric were also being investigated, but cooled to the job for the same reasons.
Finding an internal candidate in Compaq was not particularly satisfactory either. The company's number two John Rose left when he discovered the board did not want him.
In the end Rosen opted for Capellas, who had joined Compaq from Oracle, and had also worked for SAP. His career began in 1976 when he joined a US steel maker as a systems analyst.
Rosen claimed: "We thought from the beginning that Michael was one of the outstanding candidates, but we really had, to look at others. But it became clear that he was head and shoulders above all the others we looked at."
He added that one of the reasons Capellas was chosen was for his deep understanding of ecommerce, which was going to be vitally important to Compaq in the future.
According to Wilson, Capellas is an unknown who will have to work hard to convince the market that he is more than Rosen's mouthpiece.
The two new chief executives are already making announcements about their plans which are unlikely to take their companies in radically new directions.
Capellas’ first announcement, that he wants to boost direct sales by 40 per cent, shows that he intends to follow the same lines that were established by Rosen while he held the job temporarily (see related story).
Fiorina has talked about "invigorating HP's technical spirit" and "leveraging innovation" by making use of the company's extensive labs, but has been short on announcing any radical changes.
"It sounds like we could be in for more of the same from both companies," said Clive Longbottom, strategy analyst for Strategy Partners International.
"HP have been moving into eservices reasonably successfully and Compaq are starting to catch up."
The chief executive sideshow had been an unnecessary distraction that had only really benefited IBM because it had delayed a series competitive attack on its
niche market, Longbottom added.
The only difference the two chief executives will make will be to speed up and implement their predecessors' plans.
One effect of this could be Fiorina’s push on services will make Duane Zitzner, president and chief executive of HP’s enterprise computing business, a little uncomfortable. The 10 year company veteran was an early runner for the top job and is acknowledged to be very product focused.
Capellas in particular will find his work cut out to integrate the Digital and Tandem businesses his company acquired and reassure their nervous customers.
He also has to focus the business better according to Longbottom. "Compaq has suffered because it is trying to do everything. It tells its customers ‘We will sell
you Unix, we do NT, we will sell you Exchange,’" he said.
Fiorina has to work out if she wants to move her company into a full service organisation as Unisys has evolved into. This acknowledges a hardware aspect to the business but will integrate whatever IT infrastructure its customers want.
HP also needs to look seriously at networking if it wants to develop as a services company.
"Although HP have always waxed lyrical about Internet business, Lew Platt was never into networking and the company was just Cisco, Cisco, Cisco,"
However none of these decisions is radical and most of the spadework is done.
Peter Wilson, an analyst at Winterborn Consulting, said that since the two company's strategy was essentially correct, both will be on-line to make massive gains in the second quarter of 2000.
"These companies are too big and their direction too clear to let a little thing like a chief executive appointment to make much of a difference," he said.
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