(Adds details about succession at Relational)
By Supantha Mukherjee, Nadia Damouni and Svea Herbst-Bayliss
July 15 Hewlett-Packard Co interim
Chairman and activist investor Ralph Whitworth will step down on
Wednesday to focus on his health, the latest top-level departure
from the computer maker as it struggles to return to consistent
Whitworth has stood in as chairman of the world's largest
computer maker since Ray Lane relinquished that post in April
2013. He will also take a leave of absence from his hedge fund
Relational Investors, with fellow co-founder David Batchelder
and other senior managers taking the reins for now.
It was unclear what illness prompted the resignation. The
Wall Street Journal reported Whitworth had undergone throat
cancer treatment this year. HP declined to comment.
HP's board, which has been on the lookout for a permanent
chairman for over a year, will discuss the appointment of a new
chair at a meeting this week, HP said on Tuesday.
"While his presence would be a loss, we believe the
blueprint for HP has largely been drawn up and believe HP has
made meaningful progress in its restructuring and
transformation," Wells Fargo analyst Maynard Um wrote.
The Silicon Valley icon is trying to move toward computing
equipment and services for enterprises, part of Chief Executive
Meg Whitman's effort to revive the PC maker. Wall Street
analysts credit Whitman with arresting revenue declines.
But HP has grappled with turbulence in its top ranks. Lane
stepped down after HP took a writedown on Autonomy LLC, the
software developer it bought for $11 billion and later accused
of inflating accounts. Whitworth had led an investigation into
Autonomy, whose executives have denied wrongdoing.
Patricia Dunn resigned in 2006 amid criticism over a
wiretapping scandal, when she authorized eavesdropping on
directors and journalists to plug media leaks.
FORCE FOR CHANGE
Whitworth, 58, has long been a force to be reckoned with in
boardrooms. Past successes included convincing ITT Corp
to split into three in 2011, and pushing Timken Co to
spin off its steel unit. His fund is pushing to break up
Manitowoc Co Inc.
Some executives, including eBay Inc CEO John
Donahoe, have contrasted his low-key approach with that of Carl
Icahn, who often wages public campaigns.
He has served on the boards of companies including Genzyme
Corp and Mattel Inc.
While Whitworth's reputation may be outsized, his firm
manages roughly $6 billion and is small compared with the likes
of PIMCO or BlackRock. Its modest scale makes it vulnerable
should investors take their funds elsewhere.
"The perception is that he is the firm and that can make it
more difficult," said Geoff Bobroff, an industry consultant who
runs Bobroff Associates.
One investor professed support on Tuesday.
"Relational Investors has been a manager for CalSTRS for
over a decade and we have great confidence in their team to
carry on during Ralph's leave," said Anne Sheehan, director of
corporate governance at the pension fund.
(Editing by Edwin Chan and Kirti Pandey; Editing by Richard