HP/COMPAQ: Australian customers welcome Compaq gains

Compaq Computer's early local wins in the merger melee with Hewlett-Packard are being welcomed by customers and resellers.

The larger of the two partners locally has gained most of the plum jobs within the region, including the appointment of Compaq New Zealand head Russell Hewitt as boss of the merged entity.

Hewitt was appointed chief executive in place of Barry Hastings, manager of the pre-merger HP NZ. Hewitt also becomes general manager of the new company's enterprise systems group. Hastings becomes general manager of the personal systems and imaging and printing groups. Completing the four-division line-up, Compaq director of business support Simon Tong becomes head of services, winning out over his HP counterpart, Mark Bowman.

Current Compaq Australia head Paul Branding will lead the Australian merged entity and run the South Pacific as a sub-region of Asia Pacific, which is run by Compaq executive Paul Chan. Indications in Australia are that the company's management team will also be weighted toward Compaq executives.

Gen-i chief executive Garth Biggs says Hewitt's appointment should help the new company keep its local flexibility. Biggs had feared the new enterprise might become a bureaucratic monster.

"(Hewitt) has proved himself very capable and he's done a great job at Compaq. It was a tough call between the two country heads (Hewitt and Hastings) but someone had to win. It all depends on how it runs out of Australia or wherever," Biggs says, adding that other multinationals presently lack the flexibility of Compaq and HP.

"Retaining positions locally from the top down (rather than bringing in outsiders) augers well," Biggs says.

Mark Hales, IS manager of Wellington-based shipping company Seatrans, said when the merger plan was revealed last September that he would have preferred Compaq to take over HP. He calls it "good news" if this is to some degree the case locally.

Hales, a customer of both companies, says Compaq has more "depth in terms of technology" and a more comprehensive range of products.

However, HP NZ rejects any suggestion that Compaq is taking most of the top jobs because it is bigger locally, saying simply that the best people are getting the jobs. HP New Zealand spokeswoman Joanna Burgess says the appointment process is one of picking the best people for the job.

"From what I understand, they are going through a rigorous interviewing process. At the end of the day, it does not matter where they come from. Whether they are Compaq or HP is neither here or there," she says.

"These things (announcements) are cascading down, now to the level of country manager. But we do not expect any more until after the legal close," Burgess says.

Compaq New Zealand spokesman Ken Erskine says the newly merged company is still setting out its new structure and this must be done before it can appoint the appropriate personnel. "We decide the form of the new organization and then fit the people (around it)," says Erskine.

Both Hewitt and Hastings were unavailable for comment last week. Hastings was reportedly in the US on company business and Hewitt was also said to be overseas.

One of the remaining merger hurdles was removed last week when former board member Walter Hewlett said he would not appeal a court ruling rejecting a legal challenge to the merger.

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