By Suzy Hansen
At the HP Discover conference in Frankfurt, Germany, today, Meg Whitman, the 56-year-old chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard, assured a crowd of some 9,000 customers, partners and attendees that "despite what you may have heard, innovation is alive and well" at her company.
The former eBay CEO acknowledged that her first year at HP hadn't been easy. "It has been a quiet year. Not much going on," she joked. Whitman, who spent $160 million running for governor of California in 2010 and lost to three-time winner Jerry Brown, paced across the stage in front of three large screens and behind multiple teleprompters in Messe Frankfurt's cavernous theater. Since Whitman took over HP in September 2011, its stock price has been nearly halved.
"It's been an incredible year for this company," she said. "There has been a lot of challenges, but also a lot of victories. And during this last 14 months, I have come to love our company."
Whitman said that HP remains the No. 1 or No. 2 provider in every market in which it competes. "We are on a very solid financial foundation," she said, "and I think it's worth remembering that HP is a $120 billion company in revenues. We are the 10th largest company in America. And we're quite profitable. In Q4 alone, we generated $4.1 billion in cash flow from operations and $10.6 billion in cash flow for the year. Everyone in this audience knows that cash flow is the lifeblood of business." Whitman then said that HP's cash flow is more than that of Coca-Cola, Disney, FedEx and McDonald's.
The sleekly executed annual conference, which highlights HP's latest ideas and innovations, will run through Dec. 6. The first day saw thousands of (mostly) men and women wandering wide-eyed, as hundreds of smiling HP employees in perfectly tailored navy suits directed them through the airy, insanely huge Messe. Lunch was served in a room the size of several football fields; cocktails and sushi and baby quiches were passed around once it hit 5 p.m. One night this week the disco band Rodgers and Chic is to perform live; the crowd was reminded before the keynote speakers started up that their hit song was "Le Freak."
The keynote lineup featured Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks and an old friend of Whitman's from their Disney days, as well as Executive Vice President of Enterprise Business Dave Donatelli and Executive Vice President of Software George Kadifa. Donatelli and Kadifa unveiled a range of Hewlett-Packard's latest initiatives, including new HP ProLiant and Integrity servers; the 3Par StoreServ 7000 and HP StoreAll and StoreOnce storage systems; and its software-defined networks.
"I think this is the most exciting time to be in technology," Whitman said. "I liken what we're seeing now to some of the biggest changes in our history. I saw one of these huge shifts up close and personal when I was the CEO of eBay, and when these types of shifts happen, everything changes.
"IT is the engine that powers the enterprise and redefines the enterprise when all these changes take place," she said. "What's emerging out there, in my view, is an entirely new style of IT."
She cited the most important areas of HP innovation as its cloud system, information optimization and, especially, security.
"Recently I attended the Business Council; it's a CEO group in the United States, about the top 200 CEOs in America," she said, "and the No. 1 topic for the entire day and a half we were together was security. My peers live in fear of a security breach ... it's one of the biggest worries that we have as we manage these huge organizations. We know you need not only a lock on the door, but a security camera in the room."
Whitman also made a point of reiterating HP's commitment to its Autonomy software unit, which has been embroiled in controversy since HP alleged that the Autonomy software company misrepresented its sales figures. Whitman acquired the firm last year for $10.3 billion; Autonomy's messy books resulted in $5 billion of HP's overall $8.8 billion write-down.
"I also want to make sure I let all of you know this," she said. "We remain 100 percent committed to Autonomy's industry-leading technology and its employees.
"This incredible technology will play a very significant role in our growth strategy going forward."