For H-P Hot Seat, Investors Want an Innovator

PALO ALTO, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- Following Mark Hurd's stunning departure from Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) on Friday, who will be next to lead Silicon Valley's most fabled garage venture?

As a list of familiar Valley executives circulates inside Wall Street's crystal ball, one thing is for sure: Analysts and investors want someone who can convince them of an H-P growth story, one of the few things Hurd, who dazzled Wall Street with intense efficiency-promoting measures, was never able to do.

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"We believe Mark Hurd was a great cost cutter and we are disappointed that he is gone, but he was having difficulty with investors in handing off the H-P story to one of growth ... " wrote Barclays Capital analyst Ben Reitzes in a note Monday.

Indeed, while the list of strategic acquisitions blossomed under Hurd -- Mercury Interactive, Electronic Data Systems and Palm, to name a few -- analysts feel that few of them showed enough growth once situated under the H-P umbrella.

"H-P has become the Wal-Mart of IT," said a former Mercury/H-P vice president who asked not to be named. "They don't cater to a strategic IT agenda -- they're more about low costs."

To that end, tech watchers see H-P's current situation as a great thing; an opportunity to make inroads necessary to better position the behemoth in exciting, growing markets -- if its board hires the right person.

"What they really need is someone who can bring the sizzle back into H-P, who can market new products," said David Harap, managing director in the Austin, Texas office of Stanton Chase International, an executive recruiting firm. "H-P is going to be looking for a visionary, someone who can create buzz to help challenge Apple ( AAPL)."

The company and its board have been extremely tight-lipped about the search, which is being conducted by a four-person committee led by board member and renowned Internet investor/Net-scapee Marc Andreessen. "We don't have a lot to say," said Andreessen on Friday's investor call when asked about what character and business-leading traits they were seeking. "We want to make sure we get the right CEO; we're looking at both internal and external candidates."

Likewise, an H-P spokesperson declined to comment on the committee's progress on Monday.

H-P CFO and interim CEO Cathie Lesjak assured investors that she won't be taking the executive position for the long term, and speculators' guesses are divided on whether H-P will promote one of its own or look elsewhere for a heavy-hitter.

"There are any number of strong internal and external candidates," Charles King, principal analyst at technology research firm Pund-IT told TheStreet. "Internally, I think that the alignment and focus that H-P has been displaying on the enterprise side of the business would make Ann Livermore a strong candidate."

Ann Livermore, head of H-P's $54 billion enterprise business, lacks the star quality that many Valley executives possess, but she's been a crucial cog in the H-P machine. The 28-year H-P veteran has seen her division make significant gains against IBM ( IBM) and Cisco ( CSCO) and she's already been considered for H-P's top job twice, first when Carly Fiorina was appointed, and subsequently when Hurd stepped up.

Playing more to the innovation side, there's also talk of Todd Bradley, the VP who runs H-P's person computer business. Bradley, who most recently oversaw the acquisition of Palm, was key in pushing the company's PC business to market leader status, ahead of rivals like Dell ( DELL).

Yet analysts seem to be leaning toward someone from the outside: "While an internal promotion could occur given little desire for a strategic change in direction at H-P, an external hire is most probable," said Jayson Noland, an analyst at Robert W. Baird, in a note released Monday.

On the Silicon Valley hotlist are folks renowned for leading big overhauls at their own firms, including IBM software chief Steve Mills and Cisco executive Ned Hooper, both who are allegedly being groomed to take the top spots at their current companies.

Adding Apple COO Tim Cook -- who would join the ranks with fellow Apple alum Jon Rubinstein, formerly Palm's CEO -- would instantly give H-P a perception of innovation, something it needs if it's going to push forward significantly in the mobile and tablet device markets.

Until the company names a successor, its shares are likely to trade erratically; on Monday, H-P stock dropped more than 7% to close at $42.60, suggesting that investors, who are clamoring for some type of big, reassuring buyback, are skittish about the tech giant's plan.

It is worth noting, however, that H-P is in sound fiscal shape, holding more than $14 billion in cash and blowing past analysts' estimates in its second-quarter results.

"There's only about a dozen people who are qualified for the role," said Stanton Chase's Harap, adding that he'd be surprised if H-P doesn't name its new chief by Labor Day. "Once that happens, the stock price will bounce back quickly; there will even be another pop if Wall Street likes who it names to CEO."

-- Reported by James Rogers in New York, with additional reporting by Maggie Overfelt.

Follow James Rogers and Maggie Overfelt on Twitter.

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