On Jan. 16, Hewlett-Packard plans to hold a ribbon-cutting to show off an overhauled customer meeting center at its headquarters in Palo Alto. A year in the making, the complex creates a striking first impression. The off-white 1980s-vintage entryway has been updated with an ultra-modern look—lots of open space and blue lighting. Peer through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls, and you see that the space has been rebuilt around an old, bending oak tree in the middle of a courtyard: William Hewlett and David Packard planted it there back in the 1960s. “Without overstating things, this is symbolic of the rebirth of Hewlett-Packard anchored by the foundation of that oak tree,” says Meg Whitman, who works in a cubicle in the same building.
Whitman, HP’s fourth chief executive in two and a half years, is eager to project calm. She tries to have a swim each morning at a public park near her home before heading to the office. In person, she can be playful, dancing in her chair while explaining the country music-themed ringtone on her phone. For the most part, though, she’s direct about her past and HP’s future.