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Thursday, March 22, 2012, 12:36 am PT (03:36 am ET)

HP shareholders question why company isn't more like Apple

During the Q&A session of Hewlett Packard's annual shareholder meeting, individuals grilled CEO Meg Whitman on why the company isn't as innovative and successful as Silicon Valley neighbor and rival Apple.

Apple figured strongly into three of the questions raised by stockholders at the company's meeting on Wednesday.

For instance, one individual recounted how he had asked Apple co-founder Steve Jobs years ago how his company planned to compete with bigger PC makers like HP. Jobs reportedly told him that Apple products are "just better" and their technology is "years ahead of the competition, especially in mobile."

"[Jobs has] been correct," the shareholder noted, pointing out that Apple is now worth more than 10 times HP's market cap. He went on to say that Apple had succeeded in a space where HP "used to be dominant."

"Do you think HP was and is innovative enough?" he asked Whitman.

Whitman responded first by acknowledging Apple's extraordinary accomplishments in recent years.

"We all have to applaud Apple for their success," she replied. "This is one of the great business renaissance stories of our generation. I have to say Steve Jobs is one of the business leaders of our generation."

She also reminded the gentleman that HP remains "No. 1 or No. 2 in every business" it competes in, while expressing her continued commitment to R&D and and products.

Meg Whitman

HP CEO Meg Whitman


Another investor complained that HP doesn't have convenient retail stores with repair service like Apple does. He pointed out that he has to wait two to three weeks for a new printhead to be shipped from HP's facility on the East Coast when his printer is broken.

"There are obvious ways that you can improve the way HP appears to the customer," he added.

Whitman replied by highlighting the company's retail initiative in Brazil. She couldn't promise that the economics would work out in the United States, but she did say that she was working on improving HP's website.

Yet another investor pointed to Apple's vision and success in the market. He wanted to know whether HP had a similar vision and had anything innovative "cooking in HP's labs."

Whitman reassured that HP was founded on the "power of innovation" and "disruptive technology." She did admit that the company, in recent years, has underfunded revolutionary innovation in favor of more evolutionary and incremental innovation.

"We've got to place some bets on disruptive or revolutionary innovation," she said.

The executive qualified that she's hesitant to purchase revolutionary innovation through acquisitions and cautioned that the company will be making such purchases less frequently.

Whitman said she is a "big believer in focus" and encourages her leaders to just do "a few small things well."

HP has had a rocky year. After less than a year on the job, HP ousted CEO Léo Apotheker last September and appointed Whitman in his stead. Just one month prior, Apotheker had shocked the industry by announcing that HP was abandoning development of webOS devices and hinting that it might spin-off its PC business. The news sent HP's stock into a freefall.

Whitman was left to deal with cleaning up after Apotheker's dramatic announcements. She announced last October that HP would in fact keep its PC business. Last December, she announced that HP would keep webOS and contribute it to the open source community.