'The Office' of the CEO: HP's Revolving Door

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Beleaguered tech giant Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) always seems to be faced with challenges and shortfalls it needs to fix, to put it mildly.

Most recently the company was embarrassed to reveal an estimated $8.8 billion write-down for a botched acquisition for British software company Autonomy, a deal that took place in 2011.

Unlike any other company over the past decade, Hewlett-Packard has not been able to get out of its own way. Accordingly, the office of the CEO has had a revolving door.

Things seem different this time. Meg Whitman, who is HP's sixth CEO since 2005 (not counting interim CEOs), appears to have brought some stability. The company has hit bottom and Street expectations have been tossed out the window. The cynic in me, however, believes it's only a matter of time before another bombshell hits.

A Nine-Year Run

After nine strong years as one of the best shows on NBC, the lights in "The Office" turn off for good tonight. HP's imprint on the show is easy to see. Each flat-screen monitor sported the logo. In a bit of irony, the show's mocking of office dysfunction and inefficiencies paralleled much of what has brought Hewlett-Packard investors plenty of angst.

Said another way, HP has a history of dysfunction and waste that have been major catalysts to HP's decline and missed market opportunities. But it never had to be that way. Nine years ago, when "The Office" began to make its mark on workplace culture, there was also a mark on Hewlett-Packard in the name of Mark Hurd, who is now a president at rival Oracle ( ORCL).

The struggles HP has experienced since Hurd's departure highlight what I consider to have been the company's most egregious mistake -- letting Hurd go over allegations of sexual misconduct. Sex in "The Office" was an everyday happening -- in fact, it boosted moral even to those who weren't involved.

For that matter, following Hurd's departure, HP's stock has been in a free fall. Take a look at the chart. The "BH" denotes the stock's performance before Hurd, the "WH" denotes his tenure, while the "AH" is the stock's performance after his departure.

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Hewlett-Packard's performance under Hurd was solid -- including taking the stock from $21 to $42 while also placing the company on a strategic path into areas such as networking and mobility. These visions were nonexistent prior to Hurd's arrival, nor have these businesses flourished since he left. As with the departure of bad boss Steve Carell on "The Office," Hurd's departure from HP shook Wall Street, which was understandable.

After trading as high as $47 in August 2010, HP's stock has plummeted to a 10-year low of $11.35. Although the stock has rebounded over the past several months to around $21, I still wonder where HP would have been today had he not left. Hurd was ousted when sexual harassment allegations surfaced regarding an outside contractor, Jodie Fisher. On the show, this was par for the course -- it was expected and nobody told. Even Toby, the HR personnel for Dunder Mifflin's Scranton branch, looked the other way.

Essentially, had HP handled this situation differently, who knows where the company would have been today? Maybe Autonomy would have happened and maybe it wouldn't. The fates of HP's biggest rivals today could have taken different paths. Apple ( AAPL) still would have been Apple. But I don't think for a second that HP's competitive deficit would have been so significant as it is today.

Hurd's not coming back, regardless of what I think. Although Whitman seems to be keeping a good pulse at HP today, the company still faces major hurdles going forward. To her credit, it does appear that her restructuring moves are working. I just don't think it makes HP any more viable. PCs are not making a comeback and the company still has no meaningful mobile strategy.

Making matters worse, while Hewlett-Packard is busy trying to stop its bleeding, Cisco ( CSCO) and Oracle are making investments into new end-markets. This means regardless of the any progress seen in HP, the company will still be behind.

The good news is that with cash flow jumping up 115% in the first quarter to $2.6 billion, HP does not look like a company ready to be cast off to the glue factory. But the lights in the office are dimming.

At the time of publication the author had a position in AAPL.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Richard Saintvilus is a private investor with an information technology and engineering background and the founder and producer of the investor Web site Saint's Sense. He has been investing and trading for over 15 years. He employs conservative strategies in assessing equities and appraising value while minimizing downside risk. His decisions are based in part on management, growth prospects, return on equity and price-to-earnings as well as macroeconomic factors. He is an investor who seeks opportunities whether on the long or short side and believes in changing positions as information changes.