The world may know later Wednesday whether or not Leo Apotheker will remain CEO of Hewlett-Packard into his second year. Directors of the world's biggest computer maker are conducting a routine meeting where that item is reportedly on the agenda.
If he is cashiered after only a year on the job, analysts might say the 58-year-old German-born and Israel-trained executive just didn't get the lessons right at HP.
They will say he blew the company's entry into the tablet sector. He decided to spin off the world's biggest PC business without studying it thoroughly. And he may not have gained the confidence of the Palo Alto, Calif., company's 325,000 employees.
Apotheker may have been dealt a lousy hand from the start. Coming in a year ago, HP was not the only company dealing with a sour world economy. Then he had to pick up the pieces left by the messy departure of Mark Hurd, who had to leave after a scandal involving expenses and a female consultant.
Hurd, a former CEO of NCR, had himself turned around the company since 2006, after the mess left by Carly Fiorina, a former Lucent Technologies executive who was strong on marketing but poor on execution.
Apotheker, a software expert with years at Germany's SAP, had other ideas. Maybe he wasn't as used to the speed of America's tech and stock markets because he seemed to issue contradictory ideas. The August strategic changes, including purchasing Britain's Autonomy for $10.3 billion, confused things.
Under founders David Packard and Bill Hewlett, HP was known for the HP Way, whose first article reads: We have trust and respect for individuals.
To continue: We approach each situation with the belief that people want to do a good job and will do so, given the proper tools and support. We attract highly capable, diverse innovative people and recognize their efforts and contributions to the company.
One doesn't need to read much further to see why Hurd had to go in the expenses probe. But it leaves doubt about Apotheker.
True, after a year on the job, the HP CEO's progress ought to be reviewed. But if a computer-savvy expert who's not been given much of a chance to put a strategy into effect is booted out, where is the HP Way?
There was universal disdain for Yahoo's board when it decided to boot CEO Carol Bartz and couldn't announce a replacement. Good companies have transition plans, which is something HP ought to have learned by now.
In their lifetimes, Hewlett and Packard saw transitions from themselves, then to John A. Young, followed by the late Lew Platt. Hewlett saw Fiorina come in, in 1999.
But the more recent pattern would probably disturb them. One also wonders about the customers who rely upon HP's many products in enterprises and homes worldwide.
Besides Apotheker, the only other director with HP experience is Ann Livermore, the longtime EVP who ran HP's enterprise services business until June, who was twice passed over for CEO.
Livermore, 53, had been with HP for 29 years and is ingrained with the HP Way. Her role at Wednesday's meeting is pivotal. Should Apotheker be forced out, she ought to be his successor.