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HP's Hurd mentality
Wall Street likes the fact that HP has found a new CEO. Is NCR chief Mark Hurd the right pick?
March 29, 2005: 4:45 PM EST
By Paul R. La Monica, CNN/Money senior writer
Mark Hurd, HP's new President and CEO.
Mark Hurd, HP's new President and CEO.
Follow the Hurd: Shares of HP have done little during the past 2 years but NCR has flourished under the leadership of Mark Hurd.
Follow the Hurd: Shares of HP have done little during the past 2 years but NCR has flourished under the leadership of Mark Hurd.

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Investors in beaten down tech conglomerate Hewlett-Packard embraced the future on Tuesday. Shares of HP surged more than 10 percent after reports surfaced that the company had hired NCR chief executive officer Mark Hurd as its new CEO.

HP finally confirmed the hiring after the closing bell Tuesday, saying in a statement that Hurd would officially take over as CEO and president on Friday, April 1. Earlier Tuesday, NCR put out a press release saying that Hurd had resigned to "accept a position with a large global technology company."

Hurd replaces Carly Fiorina, who was ousted in February following years of underperfomance that was largely the result of HP's decision to buy fellow computer maker Compaq in 2001. HP's chief financial officer Robert Wayman, who had been serving as interim CEO, will remain CFO of the company.

Since the Compaq merger, of which Fiorina was the chief proponent, HP (Research) has struggled to make money in the personal computer and server markets due to tough competition from rivals Dell (Research) and IBM (Research).

HP has also seen profit margins erode in its cash cow business, printing and imaging, because of increased pressure from Lexmark (Research) and Canon (Research), as well as Dell, which recently entered the printer business.

So was Wall Street celebrating Tuesday because investors felt that Hurd is the right man for the job or simply because HP named a new CEO not that long after getting rid of Fiorina?

"Hiring a new CEO just under two months after firing Carly puts them ahead of their implied initial schedule of six months and the market seems to be treating that as a positive," said Robert Cihra, an analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners.

But Cihra added that he wasn't sure the market was necessarily signaling that it feels the worst is over for HP just yet.

"This at least fills a void but it's too early to know whether a new CEO can fix HP's problems. Now the hard part starts," he said.

Still, the sell-off in shares of NCR, a spin-off of AT&T that makes automated teller machines, on the reports of Hurd's departure could be an indication of how widely respected he is on Wall Street. Shares plunged more than 17 percent Tuesday.

"This is the right guy at the right time," said Mark Stahlman, an analyst with Caris & Co. "He is a high tech guy and a high growth guy who is very operations oriented."

Hurd, who has been with NCR since 1980, was put in charge of the company's data warehousing division, Teradata, in 1999. He was named CEO of NCR in March 2003 and has engineered a substantial turnaround in the company's fortunes.

Since he was promoted two years ago, shares of NCR have surged more than 300 percent. Earnings more than doubled in 2004 and are expected to increase by 45 percent this year and another 33 percent in 2006.

In HP's statement, non-executive chairman Patricia Dunn said that Hurd was the board's top choice and indicated that NCR's revival was one of the key factors behind their decision to hire him.

"Mark came to our attention because of his strong execution skills, his proven ability to lead top performing teams and his track record in driving shareholder value. He demonstrated these skills by turning around NCR, which, while smaller than HP, is a complex organization with multiple business segments," she said.

One fund manager who owns shares of NCR said that Hurd is one of the best executives he's ever met.

"Mark Hurd has the potential to fix HP's problems. It will be a tough job but he could be the person that could do it. He digs into details and is a hands on manager that examines every alternative," the fund manager said.

Among the alternatives that Hurd will have to explore will be whether or not HP should remain in its current structure or if the company should spin-off or sell various divisions, such as the PC business. To that end, IBM recently decided to sell its PC division to Chinese computer company Lenovo Group.

Several Wall Street analysts have argued that HP should be split into two companies, one for the printer business and one for the remainder of the company, which also includes storage, software and services divisions. Speculation of a breakup of HP increased after Fiorina was fired.

But Stahlman said he thinks that HP would not look to make any major restructuring moves under Hurd. He cites the fact that NCR has been an acquirer of several companies during the past few years as evidence that Hurd was not brought in to break up HP.

"Hurd has been part of a culture that builds and not dismantles. This should be a signal that HP is not going to head into a garage sale," Stahlman said.

But for this reason, Barry Randall, manager of the First American Technology fund, which owns NCR but not HP, thinks the euphoria about a new HP CEO could soon fade. He said many investors had been buying HP because they believed the sum of the parts argument, i.e. that it would be worth more in pieces.

Randall thinks once investors realize that a break up is no more likely under Hurd than it was under Fiorina, shares could fall. "The punch line to me is that shares of HP jumped when Carly got the boot because they felt she was a roadblock to splitting the company up. And now they've hired a guy who clearly will not split the company up," he said.

For more about Fiorina's firing, click here.

For a look at why HP's stock may be worth buying, click here.

Analysts quoted in this story do not personally own shares of the companies mentioned and their firms have no investment banking ties to the companies.  Top of page

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