HPE's Meg Whitman on her future plans and new chief's channel commitment

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HPE's Meg Whitman on her future plans and new chief's channel commitment

Hewlett Packard Enterprise chief executive Meg Whitman says HPE president Antonio Neri, who will take the CEO job effective 1 February, is "exactly the right person at the right time" to lead HPE into the future.

"I think Antonio is super capable of taking this company to the next level.," Whitman told CRN USA. "Antonio is as committed, if not more so, than I am to the partners and the channel. He wants to do exactly what is right for the partners and our joint end customers."

Whitman credited Neri - a technology visionary who has been the driving force behind HPE's software defined data centre strategy - with "being as committed, if not more" so  than she has been to the channel.

"Antonio was right there at the beginning encouraging that pivot back to the channel," said Whitman. "He has lots of deep relationships. He knows not only the VARs, but the distributors, the SIs [systems integrators], the ISVs. It was an important criteria. We would never have picked a CEO who was not committed to the channel."

Why is the time right for you to hand the CEO reins to HPE president Antonio Neri?

As regards to timing, we have layed a very strong foundation now for a prosperous future for Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Now is the right time I think for Antonio and a new generation of leaders to take the reins. As you know, Antonio is a longtime veteran of this company, deeply understands the partners, is completely committed to the channel and is a deep technologist.

I always said that the next CEO needs to come from inside the company and have a deep technology background. I think Antonio is exactly the right person at the right time. I will still be on the board. I will help when asked. I think Antonio is super capable of taking this company to the next level. Antonio is as committed, if not more so, than I am to the partners and the channel. He wants to do exactly what is right for the partners and our joint end customers.

What is Antonio's channel commitment and how important was that as you and the board selected him as the next CEO?

We are first and foremost channel-first. That has been true of HPE for a long time. We got away from it for a little bit under some of my predecessors, but Antonio was right there at the beginning encouraging that pivot back to the channel. He has lots of deep relationships. He knows not only the VARs, but the distributors, the SIs [systems integrators], the ISVs. It was an important criteria. We would never have picked a CEO who was not committed to the channel.

What kind of role do you expect to play on the board of directors?

I am going to be an encouraging, cheerleading board member for Antonio. There is a reason that I am not the chairman. Pat Russo will continue as the chairman. I think it is hard for new CEOs to have the old CEO be the chairman. Antonio needs to take the reins and he needs to do what he thinks is right for this company without worrying about what I am going to think.

When the former CEO is chairman it is just a little harder for the CEO. So I did not want to be the chairman. I think Pat is doing a great job there. I will be a rank-and-file board member who tries to help Antonio in any way I can.

Talk about the transition over the next three months as you hand the reins to Antonio effective 1 February.

We promoted Antonio to president in June. So he is already taking a lot of responsibility. All of the business units report to Antonio today with the exception of Financial Services. So he will continue to do much of what he has been doing. He will obviously do the earnings call next February. I think it is going to be a really seamless transition because we have worked together so closely.

We finish each other's sentences. We have got the exact same view of the strategy. We are totally aligned on that. So I think it is going to be a pretty seamless transition.

The truth is I have been deferring to Antonio somewhat over the last couple of months. I often say to Antonio, 'This is your call.'  It is not that long until February. We are almost at the beginning of December. Increasingly this will be the company Antonio leads. I want to make sure he has a chance to put his imprint on the company. But it is not going to be contentious because we totally agree on virtually everything.

What are you going to do now?

I am going to take a little time off. I have been working non-stop for 35 years. I am also the incoming chairperson of Teach for America [an organisation that provides educational opportunity for children facing the challenges of poverty].  So I will spend more time on Teach for America and philanthropic activities. But then I will see what comes along. Things reveal themselves. When I lost the race for governor [of California in 2010]  if you told me I was going to be the CEO of Hewlett Packard I would have said there is no possible way. And yet that is what revealed itself. So we'll see what happens next.

Would you ever consider getting back into politics?

I do not think I will ever run for elected office. I tried my hand at that and found it extraordinarily difficult. And, by the way, it is even more difficult today than it was when I ran in 2010. It is a full-on contact support. I am not sure that is a perfect job fit for me. Would I do appointed politics? I would if the right person was president and had the same vision for the country that I did. I would certainly think about doing that. But I don't think you can count on that. As the last election proved, you can never tell who is going to be president. We'll see what happens there, but if I could be helpful I would.

What is the call to action for partners to make sure they are successful in the future?

I think first I would trust Antonio. Second, change is a constant and I would embrace the software-defined data centre and the intelligent edge. That is where the growth is going to be. I would make sure every partner has a services offering or resells ours because the services offering is the annuity-based revenue stream and it is a very profitable revenue stream. So software-defined data centre, intelligent edge and making sure partners offer their own services or resell ours would be my prescription.

This article originally appeared at crn.com

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