HP Board Reshuffle Signals Change

PALO ALTO, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- Hewlett-Packard's ( HPQ) sweeping boardroom reshuffle, announced after market close Thursday, signals big changes at the PC giant, say analysts.

Former eBay ( EBAY) and Alcatel-Lucent ( ALU) CEOs Meg Whitman and Patricia Russo are among five new members of the HP board, along with Shumeet Banerji, CEO of Booz & Co., Gary Reiner, former CIO of General Electric ( GE) and AXA Private Equity CEO Dominique Senequier.
New CEO Leo Apotheker is set to make his mark on HP.

"We view the changes as a positive given the broad array of meaningful experience the new members bring to the table, and believe 'fresh eyes' will prove a healthy respite from the tumultuous events of the second half of 2010," said Jayson Noland, an analyst at Robert W. Baird, in a note released on Friday. "We've heard a number of investors in the past criticize HP's board in private discussions, and would expect new leadership in chairman Ray Lane and the five appointees to bring a sense of new energy and direction to the company."

HP announced Thursday that four incumbent directors are not standing for re-election at the company's annual meeting of stockholders.

The boardroom changes cap an eventful few months for HP, which parted company with CEO Mark Hurd in August following an expenses scandal. The tech giant subsequently appointed Leo Apotheker as Hurd's replacement and also brought in Lane, managing partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to chair the HP board.

Former SAP ( SAP) chief Apotheker now looks set to make his mark on the computer maker.

Apotheker has already vowed to boost HP's software business, which accounted for just $974 million of the firm's total $33.3 billion revenue during the fourth quarter. The CEO, who amassed a wealth of software experience during his time at SAP, is widely expected to bolster HP's OpenView systems management product against rival IBM's ( IBM)Tivoli offering.

Speaking on CNBC after market close on Thursday, HP's Lane pointed to Whitman's experience in the consumer market as well as Russo's background in networking and communications, which he said bode well for investors.

"I think that shareholders expected a freshening of the board," he said. "I think it's great for shareholders."

A renewed focus on the consumer market would certainly make sense for HP. The tech bellwether looks to claw tablet share from Apple's ( AAPL) iPad in the consumer market, and is frantically bolstering its mobile device strategy.

Last year, HP spent $1.2 billion to buy Palm, and is expected to unveil tablets based on the phone maker's WebOS on Feb. 9.

In the networking arena, HP is set to challenge one-time partner Cisco ( CSCO) by placing more emphasis on selling products garnered from its $2.7 billion buy of 3Com.

Goldman Sachs analyst Bill Shope, however, warns that strategic changes at HP could come at a cost."Part of this evolving strategy will require significant increases in investment (organic and inorganic) after years of aggressive restructuring actions and underinvestment," he explained in a note. "While these actions may be appropriate, we believe an increased opex load will make it difficult for the company to meet earnings expectations in fiscal years 2011 and 2012."

Shares of HP, which took a hit when Hurd departed last summer, were up 9 cents to $46.87 in morning trading on Friday.

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

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