By: Gigaom
Is Leo Apotheker launching a comeback?
Leo Apotheker, the Hewlett-Packard CEO ousted so publicly last September, pretty much disappeared from view. Until recently. Now he's been spotted in Menlo Park and was featured on a conference call with Wall Street analyst Rick Sherlund. Could he be plotting a comeback?

Leo Apotheker disappeared from public view last September after being ousted as CEO of Hewlett Packard. After the shakeup, he reportedly returned to Paris with his $25 million payout.

But he’s starting to resurface again. He’s apparently been talking with private-equity firms in Silicon Valley about investing in mature and distressed companies, according to a venture-capital source. He was spotted earlier this week in downtown Menlo Park, Calif.  Last week, he turned up on a conference call,  hosted by Nomura Securities’ analyst Rick Sherlund. The timing was curious: It coincided with HP’s first quarter earnings call.

Apotheker was run out of HP in large part because of where he wanted to take the business and how he communicated (or didn’t communicate) those plans internally.  Ironically, some of what he was advocating has turned out to be more right than wrong.

One strong takeaway from HP’s results last week was that enterprise software — an Apotheker priority — was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak quarter. HP’s enterprise software grew 30 percent year over year. While at HP, Apotheker had championed the $10-plus billion buyout of Autonomy — outraging Wall Street and lopping $3 billion off of HP’s market cap within a day of the news leaking. If this past year’s results are any indication, that purchase might pay off after all.

The other key takeaway from HP’s earnings was that the company’s Personal Systems Group — the PC business that Apotheker explored selling — is struggling big time. Overall revenue for the unit fell 15 percent year over year, with revenue from consumer PCs off 25 percent.

Apotheker didn’t specifically address HP on the Nomura call.  But he did talk about how hard it is for legacy software players to transition into the cloud game, citing Oracle’s and SAP’s experience. (Apotheker was the CEO at SAP before joining HP.) Those two companies are both buying up cloud companies, to help make that transition. Most recently, Oracle bought Taleo, and SAP bought SuccessFactors. Both Taleo and SuccessFactors offer human-resource management software as as service. According to Forbes, Apotheker told Sherlund:

There’s a real cultural issue at the big companies. The DNA isn’t there. The temptation for them is to port existing technology into the cloud. That’s impossible. So that’s why you see Oracle and SAP doing these acquisitions. They realized they have to buy and then build on the platforms they are buying.

When HP brought in Apotheker, it was criticized for recruiting a software guy to lead a hardware company — and he was out of the job in 11 months. Now that he’s making the rounds in Silicon Valley, it’s worth asking: What would be the main appeal of a twice-fired CEO? According to our source, it’s his operations experience, which is very rare, according to this person.  Apotheker could be setting himself up as a consultant for software companies or private- equity firms.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tom Raftery

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