Chambers on Whitman Taking HP Reins: ‘I Would Have Told Her Not to’

Photograph by Ronda Churchill/Bloomberg

Cisco CEO John Chambers said Meg Whitman took the HP CEO job "out of the goodness of her heart."

John Chambers, chief executive officer of Cisco Systems, supported Meg Whitman when she ran for governor of California. But he would have discouraged her from becoming CEO of Hewlett-Packard, he said today.

“I like Meg Whitman a lot,” Chambers said in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York. “She’s doing this purely out of the goodness of her heart and I would have told her not to.”

Whitman probably feels like she owes it to Silicon Valley to try and revive the icon, but “that’s a hard hand to play,” he said. Hewlett-Packard missed an opportunity to lead in several industry transitions, including mobile products, video and cloud computing, Chambers said.

Hewlett-Packard has been ceding market share to competitors during two years of management upheaval and troubled acquisitions. Whitman, a year into the CEO role, has cut jobs and is planning to focus a new product lineup on corporate clients.

Will she succeed?

“It’s hard,” Chambers said.  “Mathematically, you have to say low odds.”

“Name me a company that has ever gone through five CEOs, and the fifth CEO has turned it around,” he said, referring to the departure of several chief executives in a matter of years.

Michael Thacker, spokesman for HP, declined to comment.

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