Choosing up sides in the HP breakup

“All right,” the CEO began, “Stevens, Porter, we’ve asked you here because we, the board, here, and I, have decided to split the company into two teams. We feel that this will help each team be better able to compete in today’s marketplace. We’ve chosen you two to run the teams. Today, we’re going to ask you to put together these teams from the 20 or so separate HP business units, just as if you are choosing up sides for a sandlot football game. Do you understand?”

Stevens and Porter nodded yes, they understood. The CEO flipped a coin, Porter called heads; the coin came up tails.

“Stevens, you pick first.”

“I’ll take ink and toner.”

From a big whiteboard covered in such signs, the CEO took a magnetic sign with the ink and toner division logo on it and passed it to Stevens. “Very well. Now, Porter, your turn to choose.”

“I’ll take business laptops.”

The Chairman handed Porter his sign. “OK, Stevens?”


“It’s your turn to pick again.”

“I pass.”

The CEO and Porter looked confused. “What do you mean, you pass?” the CEO asked.

“I’m good here. Ink and toner. That’s my team.”

“Damn, I wish I would’ve won that coin flip,” Porter muttered under his breath.

“But see here,” the CEO sputtered, “there are 18 other division-sized business units that remain unchosen.”

“Yeah, he can have all the rest of ‘em,” Stevens said, inspecting his cuticles.

“But you can’t possibly compete with just the ink and toner division.”

“Why not?”

“Because… because…” The CEO knew there was a reason. “Well, look, you’ve at least gotta take one of the printer divisions.”

“I don’t want ‘em. Too much overhead. Too many model changes.”

“But they make the printers your ink and toner go in.”

“Good for them. They can make the razors, I’ll sell the blades. I’m good with that.”

“But don’t you think you’ll be at a disadvantage? I mean, look at Porter. He’ll have 19 divisions versus your one.”


“But we can’t let you get into the game so terribly undermanned. Tell you what, why don’t you take enterprise servers?”

“Uh, no way.”

“Why not?”

“Three words: big, dumb and slow.”

“OK, well, what about the handset division?”

“Do we still have a handset division?”

“Fair question. Then what about business desktops?”

“No way. I’m in this to win, not nurse along a bunch of moribund mopes.”

The CEO was at a loss. He briefly conferred with the board. When he turned back, he saw that Stevens and Porter were shaking hands.

“What’s this then? You’ve decided to stick with the teams as they are?”

“Actually,” Porter said, “I quit.”

“You quit,” the CEO repeated, stunned. “But who will run this team with 19 of our biggest divisions?”

“I don’t know. But I just agreed in principle to be an assistant coach for HP Ink and Toner.”

“What?” the CEO sputtered. “But why?”

Porter shrugged. “Hey, go with a winner.”

“Now if you’ll excuse us,” Stevens said, “we have some money to make.”

The CEO turned and looked at the white board displaying the remaining 19 business units. None of them were ink and toner. Then he noticed the board members glowering at him.

“Ah, shit,” he said.