Why Is HP Such a Mess?

If there's one the thing market hates, it's uncertainty.

That capriciousness is weighing on Hewlett-Packard's (NYS: HPQ) shareholders, judging from the stock's drop today on the news that eBay's (NAS: EBAY) former CEO Meg Whitman will be stepping up to the plate to take a swing, displacing Leo Apotheker and confirming prior rumors. Investors are justifiably rattled by the merry-go-round slew of CEOs over the years; how long will Meg Whitman's ride last?

Here's a brief recap. Carly Fiorina served as HP's CEO from 1999 to 2005, when Mark Hurd took over until his high-profile ouster last year. Oracle (NAS: ORCL) downplayed the sexual-harassment allegations against him and snapped him up in a heartbeat. HP's board spun the bottle and it landed squarely on an unfamiliar name -- Leo Apotheker, from German software maker SAP (NYS: SAP) . Less than a year later, he's out, and now would-be California Gov. Whitman is leading the way.

Earlier this week, The New York Times came out with a must-read report on how the majority of HP's haphazard board voted Apotheker in without ever meeting him. They were "just too exhausted from all the infighting," according to one of the directors who opted out of a meet-and-greet. I thought I was exaggerating when I implied that the board hadn't given Apotheker's resume a look-see, but it looks like I hit it pretty close to home.

In statements that I'm going to go ahead and call disingenuous, Whitman and HP Chairman Ray Lane have both pledged to continue on the path that Apotheker embarked on in August. The duo has said that there are no immediate changes to those plans, and that the company continues to investigate the potential of spinning off the PC unit while proceeding with the purchase of Autonomy.

In my Foolish opinion, Apotheker got booted after a short year because the board didn't like where he was taking the company, contrary to their public statements of support. Whitman and Lane's comments on standing behind Apotheker's grand plan are probably meant to smooth over the transition and save the company some face amid the poorly handled debacle. I won't be surprised if Whitman chooses to keep its PC business and, who knows, maybe even revive the TouchPad.

Let's just hope she doesn't pursue any dubious acquisitions.

At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorEvan Niuholds no position in any company mentioned. Check out hisholdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Oracle.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of eBay. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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