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Tech titan Meg Whitman stepping down as Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO

Whitman, one of the highest-profile women in U.S. business and Silicon Valley, said in September that she was committed to the company for the long term.
Image: Meg Whitman, chairwoman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard
171121-meg-whitman-ew-617p.jpgLaurent Gillieron / Keystone via AP file

Meg Whitman, who engineered one of the biggest corporate breakups in the technology sector at Hewlett-Packard Co., is stepping down as chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the company said Tuesday, only weeks after she pledged her long-term future to the business.

Whitman, 61, one of the highest-profile women in Silicon Valley and the U.S. business world, will be succeeded on Feb. 1 by Antonio Neri, 50, president of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, or HPE, the company said. Whitman will remain on HPE's board, it said.

Meg Whitman, chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in November 2015.Richard Drew / AP file

HPE stock was down by more than 6 percent in after-hours trading following the announcement.

Whitman gave no reason for her departure other than to say in a statement that "now is the right time for Antonio and a new generation of leaders to take the reins of HPE."

The news came as a surprise in the tech industry.

Crawford Del Prete, vice president of research for International Data Corp., a leading tech analytics firm, said the company has been "innovating in a way that it was not innovating when she arrived."

"This company was heading toward irrelevance three, four years ago," Del Prete said in an on-air interview on "Bloomberg Technology." Now, "the business is performing better than it has ever been performing, or better than it has in recent history."

Earlier Tuesday, HPE announced that revenue for the most recent quarter was up by almost 5 percent over the same quarter last year. And as recently as September, as she was reported to be in the running to take over the ride sharing service Uber, Whitman was telling financial analysts that she was in it at HPE for the long haul.

Antonio Neri speaks during the HP Discover 2017 Conference at the Sands Expo and Convention Center on June 6, 2016, in Las Vegas.Bloomberg / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

"I've dedicated the last six years of my life to this company, and there is more work to do," she said then. "And I'm here to make this company successful, and I'm excited about the new strategy. So lots more work to do, and I actually am not going anywhere."

Whitman, a former executive at The Walt Disney Co., Procter & Gamble Co. and other large corporations, joined eBay Inc. as president and chief executive in 1998, growing the online retailer from a $4 million-a-year boutique website into an global giant with annual revenue of more than $8 billion by 2008.

She was the Republican nominee for governor of California in 2010 but lost to Democratic incumbent Jerry Brown. During the campaign it was reported that she had employed an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper.

Whitman rebounded in 2011 by joining Hewlett-Packard's board of directors. Within months, she had been appointed chief executive.

In 2015, she oversaw the breakup of HP into two companies: Hewlett-Packard, running HP's legacy hardware operations, and HPE, focusing on the longer-term software and data sectors. Whitman stayed on as chief executive of HPE, with Neri joining her. Since then, shares of HPE have risen by nearly 50 percent.

Last year, Whitman broke with the Republican Party by endorsing Hillary Clinton for president, saying Republican Donald Trump had "exploited anger, grievance, xenophobia and racial division."