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Meg Whitman, You're No Steve Jobs
Posted at 1:17 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Oct. 4They called it the "reality distortion field." That's what people who worked with Steve Jobs knew was happening when the late Apple (AAPL) chieftain pretty much made up whatever he wanted and knew he could get away with it. You knew you were getting snowed by Jobs when he said it was possible to come out with the impossible in a few weeks' time, or when he praised someone whom you knew he was about to fire. You knew that when he hated someone he might love someone the next minute. It was just his way, and he could get away with it because he succeeded so often and was right so often and had a crystal clear image and view of what he knew the customer wanted -- even if the customer didn't know herself, which was far more often the case than not. This morning, we interviewed Meg Whitman, CEO of one of Apple's biggest competitors, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ - Get Report), on "Squawk on the Street." To crib from one of the greatest debate lines in history -- Lloyd Bentsen's zinger to opponent Dan Quayle in the vice-presidential debate of 1988 -- we knew Steve Jobs, and Meg Whitman, you are no Steve Jobs. Her reality was certainly distorted, in my opinion, but unlike Jobs, there's no particular reason to believe that, alas, her distorted reality will ever materialize. First, I found this morning's interview painful -- maybe because debate talk was in the ether, maybe because Whitman tried and failed to be governor of California. The CEO came off as a politician, unwilling to answer any question about how she could save Hewlett-Packard from going the way of other hardware companies that couldn't keep up. She talked a cheerleader's game about 320,000 dedicated Hewlett-Packard employees, which by my count, may be perhaps 100,000 too many. She didn't answer how she could stop Apple from storming the enterprise gates. She didn't make a real case for why a hardware model still worked. She didn't explain how things could have gone so awry. She made no case for owning the stock whatsoever, and ruled out a wait-until-next-year turn by saying that it will be 2014 before we see any positive results from the company. I hope that "reality" isn't distorted, too.