Meg Whitman and HP: Everything That Is Wrong With Tech

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I heard a rumor that Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) CEO Meg Whitman went on Fox Business News the other day and said her company will, at some point in the future, produce a smartphone.

I didn't witness the interview firsthand. And even though a simple Google search confirms it did indeed happen, I want to treat it like a nasty rumor.

Let's not rule out the possibility that an impostor put on a leftover Meg Whitman Halloween costume, went on national television, discussed plans for a smartphone and, somehow in this connected world, HP never got wind of what happened so they did not issue a press release to refute it.

Even though I would not have voted for her in your booth, I liked Whitman better when she ran for Governor of California. At least as a politician, it's acceptable to be unoriginal and have no vision. That shouldn't fly as a CEO in tech.

Interestingly, HPQ's share price does not go the way of Dell's ( DELL). For one reason or another, investors give Whitman a sliver of the benefit of the doubt. It probably has something to do with her time at eBay ( EBAY).

Of course, when Whitman joined a 30-employee eBay, it needed a leader to guide its growth. I hesitate to take credit away from Whitman in that regard. At the same time, eBay was not Whitman's idea.

Pierre Omidyar had the revelation and founded the company. Whitman was little more than one of dozens, maybe hundreds of executives who could have ably babysat an idea whose time clearly had come.

Simply put, she is not a visionary. That's a problem for HP.

Generally, I like to consider situations like this from a more complex perspective. You know, way more than two sides exist to every story.

In this case, however, we're looking at something that could not be more black and white. HP requires a rock star visionary and it doesn't have one.

Whitman repeats the same behaviors and processes that have held back innovation in some corners of tech for years. She culls from the pool of what exists. That ensures mediocrity. And it's one of the reasons Apple ( AAPL) can remain so dominant. Even with him gone, the current team at Apple can milk Steve Jobs's legacy and use some of their own talent to sustain things for a while.

HP, however, is not eBay. Whitman has no coattails to ride on. She has no direct marching orders. She has not been given a task that somebody of her ilk can make magic with.

When she joined eBay, it was easy enough to put her MBA-geared brain to work and navigate the waters from startup to mega-corporation. HP requires wholesale change. It's not about taking what you've been given and managing it for growth and stability. It's about creating something entirely new.

At least that's what it should be about at HP.

Meg Whitman should not be talking about a smartphone. She should not be sending her team off to take their time on the project because, of course, we would rather get it right this time than get it out the door fast. What a complete and utter waste of human capital and shareholder money.

Whitman should not be saying anything. She should be holed up in her office or wherever she does her best thinking ... thinking. Yes, thinking.

Thinking about how HP can shape the world with something original two, three, five years down the line. Instead, she does like every other lame company that bites at Apple's ankles. She sends these poor employees off with vague marching orders - Let's build a smartphone!.

Just what we need. Another iPhone knockoff. This will not end well.

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this article.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Rocco Pendola is a private investor with nearly 20 years experience in various forms of media, ranging from radio to print. His work has appeared in academic journals as well as dozens of online and offline publications. He uses his broad experience to help inform his coverage of the stock market, primarily in the technology, Internet and new media spaces. He has taken a long-term approach to investing, focusing on dividend-paying stocks, since he opened his first account as a teenager. Pendola, 37, is based in Santa Monica, Calif., where he lives with his wife and child.

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