HP's move puts Rubinstein in Rahul Sood's old shoes, an operations guy in charge of webOS
HP’s press release this afternoon announcing the appointment of Stephen DeWitt as the new head of the webOS Global Business Unit was worded in a very clear way:
“DeWitt has dramatically improved PSG’s profitability and share position in the America’s region since his arrival to HP in 2008.”
What they’re saying is he’s a sales and operations guy. DeWitt was responsible for driving both increased sales and increased profitability within the HP Personal Systems Group, and that was accomplished by approaching the problem from multiple angles. First and foremost, HP’s personal computer offerings have grown more attractive over the past few years, a move that has undoubtedly enticed many a customer. At the same time, DeWitt drove HP towards better profitability by cutting waste within his division (something former CEO Mark Hurd excelled at).
DeWitt’s new role as the head of the webOS Global Business Unit underscores HP’s commitment to webOS and belief in the platform’s potential. Placing the guy who drove your computer division to great profit in charge of a division that put out its first big product in over a year (the HP Veer doesn’t count, no matter how much we love it) and is starting practically at zero in market share? That’s a vote of confidence.
Apart from just leading product and software development within the WGBU (WOSGBU? webOS GBU?), DeWitt will also be overseeing research and development, marketing, and channel support. HP’s also tasked him with “the creation of a fully integrated, global developer and independent software vendor program to deliver new consumer and business applications.” What that means beyond where the App Catalog is already headed, we’re not entirely sure. The webOS App Catalog has hit “global” with webOS 3.0, though we suppose there’s still some room for improvement in that area. What remains to be seen is whether or not DeWitt and VP of Developer Relations Richard Kerris will be able to bring on the developers needed to make those apps.
DeWitt’s statement in the press release seems to indicate that he understands the apps need: “As part of our investment in the future of webOS, we are working in lock step with the developer community, our channel partners and the start-up community to create an application ecosystem that delivers on HP’s mobile connectivity strategy.” Any webOS developer will tell you that the people in webOS developer relations are great people, but the tools, resources, and support needed sometimes are lacking. Both DeWitt and Kerris are going to have to continue to listen to the developer community, both large and small, to deliver what they need to make the apps the platform needs.
Jon Rubinstein, on the other hand, almost seems to have received a demotion. He’s retained his Senior Vice President status, but has been removed from the General Manager position of the webOS Global Business Unit (apparently taking the Palm name with him) and appointed as the Personal Systems Group’s new SVP of Product Innovation. What exactly that means is pretty unclear, though we might have already seen that role in action before today. Remember Rahul Sood? Yeah, the guy who built VoodooPC, sold to HP, became their CTO of Global Gaming and floated around HP heading up their Innovation Program Office making cool things happen across the company.
Rubinstein’s new role puts him in a position where’s he’s proven successful: making cool things happen. Rubinstein was the guy who drove development of the iPod at Apple and was brought on board at Palm to drive development of the Pre and webOS. Where things went south was when he was placed in charge of Palm as Chairman and CEO. Rubinstein’s an engineer, he always has been. While putting him in charge of Palm may have seemed like a good idea at the time, we know now he’s not a marketing, sales, carrier relationships, or developers guy, though we like to believe he did try his hardest in those and every other area. The new SVP of Product Innovation role for Rubinstein puts him back in his element: making cool things happen across the board and not worrying about things like profitability or marketing.
The new positions for DeWitt and Rubinstein look like they’ll serve both men, HP, and webOS well. Rubinstein gets to do more tinkering and making cool things happen and HP gets to take advantage of his extreme engineering talent and product vision, while DeWitt gets to lead the charge on taking webOS to the next level and the webOS Global Business Unit gets a guy that knows how to make sales and profits happen. HP’s betting big on webOS and this leadership shuffle is just one of the many ways they’re getting all of their cards in the right place.