Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported that HP has reportedly tapped Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) to provide advice on how to spur unwanted advances from activist investors who may reshape the embattled tech giant. A common defense in such situations is a shareholder-rights plan, a.k.a. a poison pill, which typically makes it prohibitively expensive to pursue a takeover without the board's blessing.
Icahn, Icahn, he's our man!
Amid HP's recent management shakeup and overall inability to define a clear strategic direction, the company would be ripe for someone like Carl Icahn, any other number of activist investors, to quietly accumulate shares and start axing board members. Clorox (NYSE: CLX ) implemented a poison pill to fend off his offers back in July, so this isn't his first rodeo. Recent speculation would have it that Icahn has picked up a stake in Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) , but I think HP would a much better candidate.
If he can't do it, no one can
Sadly, for shareholders, if the WSJ report is accurate, no white knight like Icahn will be swooping in to save the day. Poison pills are typically shareholder-unfriendly and serve only to maintain the status quo for board members who aren't ready to relinquish their seats, even when they need to. What kind of a board brings on a CEO without as much as meeting him? Answer: HP's board.
The right stuff?
I have reservations on whether CEO Meg Whitman is the best pick to lead the HP of the future. Sure, she led eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) through its golden years, but HP is a dramatically different beast, even if both companies technically fall under the "tech" umbrella. She has no meaningful experience with consumer hardware, enterprise software, or resurrecting the dead. I'll give her a fair shot, but for the record I have my doubts.
HP has a lot to answer for to its investors, and adopting a poison pill is not an acceptable response to very legitimate questions about how the company is being managed and who is accountable to shareholders.