Unrelentingly On-Message: What CEOs Can Learn from Meg Whitman


Hewlett Packard Enterprises’ CEO, Meg Whitman, keynoted at Infosys’ Confluence 2017 last week and her message was on point…five years on point.

Meg Whitman figured a few things out fast when she became the 4th CEO of Hewlett-Packard within a 13-month span. If she was going to lead the company in a turnaround where qualified predecessors before her had failed, it would take five years; playing to their strengths versus shoring up weaknesses, and a culture shift more difficult than any technological change. And getting those messages out early and often may have just saved her job and the company.

Her key messages to the board, the investors, and the employees came from the first two – time and strengths. And sticking to those key messages gave the company the what, why and how Hewlett-Packard would transform from an outdated behemoth back to the industry-leading innovator she believes will eventually change the way we compute (see HP Labs puts optical connections inside the server).

In her bid for California Governor, Meg learned the power of a story and telling the story again, and again, and, yes, again. The five-year transformation strategy became her corporate stump speech. A speech delivered consistently and without corporate speak, with examples of successes and failures, with a vision for a new future and a plan to reach that desired future.  

She knew even when it felt stale to her, it was what the company and its stakeholders needed to hear. Her message drumbeat was so steady and on-message that even the press cajoled her for consistency.

Messages must be backed by action and progress toward outcomes. However, when she placed the 5-year transformation stake in the ground, her messages became her lifeline. When investors wanted to know why the company hadn’t turned around in 12 months, she could point to her consistent message it would take five years, not one to meet their objectives, but she had a plan and they were on track. The company had to get smaller to go faster and one large Hewlett-Packard became four, more nimble entities. She reduced the company’s internal applications from 9500 to 350. She’s also betting, and betting big, on a return to their innovation roots by showcasing their next-generation computing prototype, The Machine, their testbed for memory-centric computing.

But if you’ve been following Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, you already knew their strategic path, because Meg has been saying it for years.