Head of HP Labs resigns
Hewlett-Packard said Wednesday that the head of its global research arm has resigned, at a time when CEO Meg Whitman has said she wants HP Labs to work more closely with the company's business units.
Prith Banerjee, a longtime academic who founded two tech startups early in his career, will join Swiss tech company ABB as chief technology officer.
The 51-year-old Banerjee was hired to run HP Labs by former CEO Mark Hurd. In his five-year tenure, Banerjee reorganized the sprawling labs organization and eliminated some projects, while focusing on a smaller number of so-called "big bet" research efforts that the company said were tied to major business goals.
During that time, HP Labs announced several breakthroughs including a new approach to electronic data storage, nanotechnology sensors and flexible electronic displays.
Over the same period, however, Hurd cut the Palo Alto tech company's overall budget for research and development, fueling criticism that HP was falling behind competitors such as Apple (AAPL) in creating new products. In a recent interview, Banerjee
defended Hurd's commitment to innovation while praising Whitman for increasing the company's support for research.
Whitman also reorganized the company's management, after she became CEO last fall, so that Banerjee reported directly to her. She said publicly that she felt the labs organization had become too isolated from HP's business divisions and that she wanted to speed the transfer of new technology from the labs into commercial products.
Banerjee is an electrical engineer and longtime academic; he ran the engineering program at the University of Illinois, Chicago, before joining HP. He also started two small companies of his own.
HP said longtime lab official Chandrakant Patel will be interim labs director until a permanent replacement is named. Patel is a mechanical engineer described in his official biography as "a pioneer in microprocessor and system thermo-mechanical architectures," who has obtained more than 115 patents. He has run HP Labs' sustainable ecosystems research group, working on lowering energy consumption and the costs of operation for data centers.
As interim director, Patel will oversee a staff of several hundred researchers at six locations, including Palo Alto and cities in India, China, Singapore, Israel, the United Kingdom and Russia.
HP Shakes Up Leadership in R&D Division
Hewlett-Packard chief executive Meg Whitman has promised the company will double down on research and development as HP plots a course out of a rut that's seen HP shares lose more than 40 percent of their value in the past year, but the company will have to do it without its current head of R&D, Prith Banerjee, according to All Things D.
Banerjee, head of HP Labs for the past five years, is leaving the company on April 15, All Things D reported Wednesday, based on an internal HP memo that the tech site said it had obtained. The top R&D executive, a senior vice president at HP, is leaving the computing giant for a position outside the U.S. and will be replaced by Chandrakant Patel on an interim basis, according to All Things D.
Patel has been with the company for 25 years, is an HP Senior Fellow, and the director of the company's Sustainable Ecosystems Research Group.
Whitman took over leadership of HP last year following the ouster of Léo Apotheker, himself an emergency replacement for ex-CEO Mark Hurd, who left the company in the aftermath of a scandal over allegations of impropriety involving a female HP contractor and allegedly fudged expense reports.
Whitman, a former California gubernatorial candidate, has pledged big changes at HP as the company strives to extricate itself from recent leadership drama and a sense that it's treading water as a technology leader while companies like Apple and Google pass it by.
In her first major public conversation with investors as HP's new CEO last November, Whitman pledged to dial back the company's acquisition-happy ways under her predecessors and to pump more money into R&D at the company, something from which HP has veered away in recent years.
And that appears to be happening. According to All Things D, HP spent $3.3 billion on R&D in 2011, representing about 2.5 percent of sales and up from the $2.8 billion it directed towards such efforts in 2009.
Previously, HP Labs reported to the CEO through the company's chief strategy officer, but Whitman now has HP's main R&D arm reporting directly to her, according to the tech site. What's more, according to All Things D, Whitman has issued a new prerogative to the folks in the lab coats—focus on research than can be quickly be turned into marketable products.
What's unclear is whether Banerjee's rumored departure has anything to do with Whitman's reported focus on more practical uses of HP's R&D investments, or comes in spite of same. Here's the internal memo that Whitman reportedly sent to relevant staff about the change at HP Labs:
TO: HP Technologists
SUBJECT: Leadership Announcement
I am writing to share the news that Prith Banerjee, senior vice president of research and director of HP Labs, is leaving HP effective April 15, 2012. He will be assuming a role outside the company, which will be announced at a later date. I am pleased to announce that Chandrakant Patel, senior fellow and director of the Sustainable Ecosystems Research Group, will serve as the interim director of HP Labs until a permanent successor is identified.
Prith has been a strong contributor to HP's product innovation and has substantially increased the visibility of Labs within the business. He's led breakthrough research, including data de- duplication, flexible displays, the memristor and nano-technology sensors (CeNSE). Prith has a passion for innovation I know you all share—a passion that will continue to flourish at HP Labs. I wish Prith well in the future.
We're extremely fortunate to have someone of Chandrakant's talent and experience ready to step into Prith's shoes. As you all know, Chandrakant is an HP veteran who has been with the company for 25 years. His team has taken numerous technologies to market, including innovations that span servers to data centers, such as the current research in sustainable data centers which is being transferred to our enterprise business. He will continue to drive Labs forward during this transition, and I couldn't be more pleased that he has agreed to assume this interim role.
Innovation is core to HP. HP Labs generates the research that turns ideas into products. As you have heard me say, one of our goals is to improve the connection between Labs and the business, so we can accelerate the path to market and translate innovation into business results. This, in turn, will help to generate growth and enable continued investment.