MEDIA WATCH: Opinions vary on ramifications of Capellas' departure from HP

HP and Compaq had to wage a bitter five-month proxy war to secure the $19 billion merger of the two companies. HP CEO Carly Fiorina and Compaq CEO Michael Capellas fought tooth and nail to secure the victory, emphasizing the strength of the combined leadership: Capellas was the operations expert, while Fiorina was the marketing and strategy whiz. However, when Capellas announced his resignation, and rumors flew that he was in talks to become CEO of WorldCom barely six months after the merger was approved, the news caught many by surprise.

HP and Compaq had to wage a bitter five-month proxy war to secure the $19 billion merger of the two companies. HP CEO Carly Fiorina and Compaq CEO Michael Capellas fought tooth and nail to secure the victory, emphasizing the strength of the combined leadership: Capellas was the operations expert, while Fiorina was the marketing and strategy whiz. However, when Capellas announced his resignation, and rumors flew that he was in talks to become CEO of WorldCom barely six months after the merger was approved, the news caught many by surprise.

Reporting on Capellas' resignation most often conveyed that he simply yearned to be a CEO again, after having served as the president of HP following the merger. Capellas was depicted as not having the type of personality to accept playing second fiddle to Fiorina - despite their solid friendship and teamwork in getting the merger approved and the two companies integrated. Most of the coverage was sympathetic in this regard. One analyst told CNBC (November 11), "You can't be too surprised that a guy who was a CEO, and had to take a backseat role, is now looking to move and run his own business." But reporting also noted that HP investors were displeased with the news, with HP's stock losing 11% of its value on the day of Capellas' resignation. The 11% loss amounted to a message from investors that HP without Capellas was worth $5 billion less in market capitalization. As an industry analyst told CNNfn (November 11), HP "is going to put as positive a spin as they can on him leaving." And there was evidence that HP's spin was widely covered in the media. More than half of the coverage analyzed carried the message from Capellas and Fiorina that he was leaving at a natural transitional point in the integration of the two companies. Nearly as often, however, the media carried the criticism that Capellas was leaving before the integration of the two companies was complete. HP's hometown newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News (November 12), quoted one opponent of the merger as saying the resignation "raises red flags [because Capellas] is the guy who got you into this combination, and he's not even going to stay around." The paper noted that Capellas was leaving only six months into what had been envisioned as an 18-month process. Several stories depicted Capellas' departure as a loss for HP, but most agreed that although inconvenient, the company would be able to move forward. A number of reports voiced reservations that Fiorina was not appointing someone else to fill the president slot, but was instead having all of Capellas' charges now report directly to her. Capellas' experience in stabilizing Compaq was viewed as attractive to WorldCom, since WorldCom itself is in a horrible predicament, trying to emerge from the largest Chapter 11 filing in US history. Coverage also depicted Capellas' appointment as a sign of confidence in the company, and a clean break with its past. Even so, there were a number of reports that pointed out that he has no experience in the telecom field. Capellas, who was appointed chairman and CEO of WorldCom on November 15, will have a gargantuan challenge ahead of him, while HP and Fiorina will have to show that they are just as solid without him.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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