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If Ray Lane hated HP’s Autonomy move so much, how did it happen?

September 28, 2015, 7:02 PM UTC
HP CEO Meg Whitman Visits China
Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard
Photograph by ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

Since Hewlett-Packard closed its $11 billion purchase of Autonomy in late 2011, we’ve learned a lot that raises questions about why this deal, controversial since the get-go, ever went through.

Last week, for example, an internal HP (HPQ) email surfaced showing that Ray Lane, who was then chairman of HP’s board, expressed serious concerns about Autonomy and even suggested that HP try to nix the deal after it was announced.

This followed an an August 17, 2011 conference call in which HP’s then-CFO HP Cathie Lesjak reportedly told the board that Autonomy was too expensive for HP. One day later, the blockbuster deal was announced.

Given Lane and Lesjak’s reticence you have to wonder how and why the deal got pushed through. Current HP chief executive and chairman Meg Whitman was on the board then, as were current directors Marc Andreessen (co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz) and Rajiv Gupta (former chairman of Delphi Automotive).

Reached for comment an HP spokesperson reiterated that the Autonomy buy had unanimous support from the board.

To go back, the stated rationale for buying Autonomy was that it would bring HP some badly needed enterprise software capabilities. And it’s true that growing its enterprise software business was a good idea for HP, which was a leader in PCs and printers, both of which had become low-profit, commodity businesses.

Here’s the thing about acquisitions. If they go well, you won’t hear about squabbling among stakeholders evaluating the deal. But if things go sideways, as was the case here, there’s ample opportunity for scapegoating and finger pointing. In this respect, it’s failure, rather than success, that has many fathers.

But it would be nice to know who at HP, other than Apotheker, really wanted this acquisition to go through and made sure that would happen.

This story was upated at 4:50 p.m. EST to add the HP comment.

For more on HP’s past, check out the video below.


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