HP CEO Whitman tries to reassure users as cuts loom

As HP CEO Meg Whitman took the stage at this month's HP Discover conference in Las Vegas, the thousands sitting in the cavernous hall applauded politely -- and then stopped.

It was Whitman's first appearance at this conference. She faced an audience of people who run systems that make sure airplanes fly on time and banking systems never fail.

Typically, attendees at HP Discover conferences are after the latest product information or want to see how their peers are handling problems similar to their own. But these days, they have more on their minds. They want to know what changes are in store as HP plans to cut 27,000 jobs, or about 8% of its workforce, over the next two years. They also have questions about the Itanium chip, which is the subject of a lawsuit.

One IT manager, who didn't want his name used, said HP has assigned about 45 people to provide sales and technical support to his company. One of the things he wanted to accomplish at the conference was to find out about the "continuity of the technical support" in the wake of the layoffs. He learned that around 25% of the HP staffers assigned to his company might "turn over," or be affected by the layoff in some way.

Whitman, who took the CEO job last September after her predecessor, Leo Apotheker, was shown the door, tried to reassure HP's customer base. "The kind of turmoil that HP has had at the top of the company can take a toll on companies, employees, shareholders," she said. "But I've been surprised at the resilience of HP people."

Leon Arens, another attendee, runs HP NonStop systems at a financial services firm. The fault-tolerant systems use the embattled Itanium chip, and he said that's a bigger concern than the layoffs. There's "too much" on that platform that's mission-critical, and swapping it out even five years from now "would be crazy," he said.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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