Can Mark Hurd Save Dell, Dude?


As former chief executive of HP , Mark Hurd stabilized the company after a tumultuous acquisition-happy period that hurt the tech company and its shareholders. Then, in 2010, Hurd was involved in a sexual harassment scandal that, while never conclusively finding Hurd guilty, resulted in a boardroom mutiny and cost him his job. From there, the CEO moved over to Oracle at the bequest of Larry Ellison. Today, a potential Dell buyer wants Hurd to shepherd the company through its restructuring. Could this be the solution to Dell's woes, or are we looking at another game of the CEO-shuffle?

(Almost) shining tenure
When Mark Hurd was running the show over at HP, things were dandy. Under his tenure, the stock price doubled, Wall Street showered him with best-in-show awards, and the company was the largest tech company in the world by revenue. Since then, the $43 billion company has witnessed its stock plummet from the mid-$40's to a bottom of $12, and has since recovered to $22 -- half its market value just a couple of years back. And, during this time, an asteroid hit the planet of the PCs, damning them to a slow and painful extinction that still lingers today.

Would Hurd have prevented the fallout from PC-ocalypse? Unlikely. But there is no doubt that he led the company to its best state.

Fast-forward to today, and we see a Dell that looks very similar to a pre-Hurd HP. It's in buyout territory, with private equity firms and founder Michael Dell circling. The company failed to diversify away from its core business, allowing market trends to drive the company towards irrelevance (if not saved by a white knight). While Hurd was running HP, it passed Dell as the world's largest purveyor of PCs.

To really complete this Hollywood-worthy tale, Mark Hurd is being proposed as a new showrunner for Dell, the company he was previously hired to surpass. Blackstone, the private equity firm that has now offered a proposal to buy the beleaguered tech company, thinks he is the right man for the job.

Though there is no word yet on whether Hurd would agree, Blackstone has reportedly made an offer for the company at $14.25 per share, with a cap on how many shares it would pick up. This move is in competition with Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners, who have joined together with a buyout price $24.4 billion, as well as Carl Icahn, who recently offered $15 per share for up to 58% of the company. Blackstone's offer is a big one compared to Silver Lake's, as the former would not have the help of Michael Dell's 15% stake in the company and personal investment.

Whether Dell's board would accept the Blackstone (or Icahn) offer over its founder's is still speculation at this point, but what is a more interesting topic is Mark Hurd for CEO.

Hurd '14
If it were 2005, Hurd would be an obvious choice to take over the reins at Dell. What he did for HP was a textbook case of effective management. But it's 2013. Apple has taken over (and then kind of lost) the position of tech-demigod, and it's not enough for printers to work via Wi-Fi -- they need to materialize 3D objects out of thin air. The climate for a PC company has devolved into Svalbard-like conditions, and Dell doesn't have a coat. Can Hurd save this company from what plagues it?

HP legacy
Hurd did what tech firms need to do, and a little of what they shouldn't. He spent more than $17 billion on research and development throughout his tenure, and another $20 billion on acquisitions. The R&D kept the business innovative and relevant, while the purchases... well, not so much. For example, EDS, the IT outsourcer, was bought to supplement the company's hardware and software sales and ended up as an $8 billion impairment charge in 2012. In these more cautious times, one would hope Hurd's trigger-finger has gotten less itchy at the business-buying store.

Since HP-s big run-up several years ago, the market has changed substantially. Mark Hurd proved himself, with some errors in between, an adept adapter in an industry that accepts nothing less. Even superhero lady and former candidate for governor Meg Whitman hasn't yet been able to do accomplish this since she stepped into the C-suite at HP.

Both Dell and HP are a mess, and the leader of either company will have to move mountains in order to fix the underlying issues. Though he's made plenty of mistakes along the way, Mark Hurd may still be Dell's best chance at getting back on terra firma.

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