Another One Bites The Dust: HP Loses Another Top Executive

Hewlett Packard is the world’s largest producer of personal computers.  However, over the last couple years it was left trying to catch up — first in the netbook market, and now in the red-hot tablet market.

To make matters worse, HP CEO Mark Hurd resigned over allegedly trying to cover up his relationship with an HP contractor.  Now, HP has endured another high profile executive’s departure.

Peter Skillman, the Vice President of Design at Palm (whose purchase was completed by HP in July), has jumped ship.  Skillman had 11 years with Palm and was the man in charge of the design of the Palm Pre, a phone that generated relatively enthusiastic reviews, but failed to catch on with consumers.  In an interview with Forbes Skillman in 2009 remarked with regards to the Pre, “We wanted to build something really soft and precious yet robust that would be very different from the hard, pragmatic products in the market”

Overall Skillman’s wealth of mobile device experience — 20 years in total — will be sorely missed.  What’s more, his departure means that the Pre’s entire executive team has jumped ship.  Michael Abbott (head of webOS) left for Twitter in April; Matias Duarte (head of webOS design work) left for Google’s Android project; and Mike Bell (VP of Product Development) jumped to Intel.

Palm’s former CEO Jon Rubinstein, a HP veteran himself, is reportedly still with the company and very much in the thick of the discussion to become Mark Hurd’s replacement.  Aside from Rubinstein, though, Palm’s executive ranks have been decimated by mass exodus.

There are a lot of reasons why a company might acquire another. 

Sometimes an acquisition occurs because the company sees value in its acquisition’s products or staff talent and wants to leverage that value.  If this is the case of HP and Palm, HP is doing a pretty poor job with its follow through.  It’s obviously not giving Palm’s staff incentive to stay with it, which seriously diminishes the possibility of new product development.

Sometimes the purchase is to acquire a desirable brand.  HP obviously isn’t interested in the Palm brand, as the brand was quite weak at this point and HP has already indicated it will brand any new Palm designs as “HP” products.

So why did HP acquire Palm and why is it now letting the company’s executives slip away?  It’s possible the move was merely to acquire Palm’s intellectual property portfolio, including webOS and smartphone technologies.  Perhaps it really doesn’t need Skillman, Bell, Duarte, and Abbott for its smartphone objectives.  However, the issue here becomes that if HP fails in its upcoming smartphone bid, it will be easy to blame the company’s failure to retain these key players.

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