Growing Clouds
Bloomberg Businessweek Middle East|1 August, 2018

Inside Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the new CEO is a bona fide celebrity. Outside, he’s got a lot to prove

Nico Grant

At his company’s local customer support and research and development centre in Bangalore, Antonio Neri got a reception that’s tough to square with the image of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. Four thousand employees stood under a tent in India’s sticky, 97F March heat to cheer their new chief executive officer and waited in line for hours to take photos with him 10 at a time. Wearing a traditional yellow garland over his dark suit, Neri set an easy smile on his face. Two hours deep in the receiving line, he made as if to leave to catch a flight, then opted to keep posing instead.

Close to six months after he officially succeeded Meg Whitman as CEO, Neri has received versions of this star treatment at offices throughout Asia, Europe, and elsewhere. The warmth that’s greeted him has been something more than the run-of-the-mill butt-kissing expected during a visit from the boss. The crowds seem genuinely convinced when Neri tells them HPE is entering a new era with the tools it needs to succeed, and that they could rise from the call centre to the C-suite, like he did. “As an employee of the company for over 20 years, I know every system and every process, which is good and bad,” Neri said at HPE’s conference in Las Vegas in June. “But I have a unique opportunity to really transform the company.”

Neri has a lot to prove. The little-known CEO, who took over from one of the most recognisable women in U.S. business, is still largely following her playbook—hawking servers, storage hardware, and networking gear that are less essential than ever in the era of cloud computing. Dell Technologies Inc. and the cloud giants (Amazon.com, Microsoft, Google) have sapped HPE’s client base, and they’re working harder to target the clients it has left. HPE has slashed costs and jobs and is groaning under almost $14 billion in debt.

While HPE has made some minor investments and acquisitions during Neri’s first two quarters in charge, its value has fallen about 8 percent, to $24 billion. Sales and profits have risen, and Neri has continued Whitman’s hiked dividends and stock buybacks, but shares plummeted after he said on a May earnings call that investors should expect a “challenging second half.” HPE’s bets on future engineering trends are a long way from fruition.

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