Jon Rubinstein, the former CEO of Palm and the man behind WebOS, has left HP.
It's hard to imagine that only about 19 months ago, HP acquired Palm for $1.2 billion. In that short span, HP embarked on an aggressive plan to produce smartphones and tablets running WebOS—before deciding to kill that original strategy due to poor sales, spin off its PC business, change CEOs, and radically pivot toward acquiring enterprise services company Autonomy for $10 billion.
Now Rubinstein joining a slew of recently departed executives—including Phil McKinney and Richard Kerris—though Rubinstein is perhaps the most high-profile of the bunch. The former Apple executive who oversaw the creation of the iPod, Rubinstein was tapped to breathe new life into HP, but has now become a symbol for all the dramatic and bumpy transformations HP has undergone over the past few years.
"We ran out of runway, and we ended up at HP and HP wasn't in good enough shape on its own to be able to support the effort," Rubinstein said an interview with The Verge. In a discussion with AllThingsD about why the TouchPad failed, he added, "Well, it wasn’t exactly given much time."
Rubinstein's comments echo the sentiments of many critics of HP and its handling of WebOS. Just weeks after the technology company axed the TouchPad, Phil McKinney, then-CTO of HP's $40 billion personal systems group, which oversaw the TouchPad, laid down the "7 Immutable Laws of Innovation" on his blog. It seemed that HP had violated every single one of the laws, especially the laws of resources and patience. "The organization must take the long view on innovation and avoid the temptation and resist the pressure for short-term adjustments," McKinney wrote. Offering a prescient warning, McKinney also said of his laws, "If you violate any one of them, the consequences can be disastrous."
But Rubinstein had more on his mind than just improving HP's bottom line. When he left Apple and later ended up at Palm, Rubinstein joined a direct Apple competitor—an act of treason in Cupertino. "I'm definitely off the Christmas list," Rubinstein once said of Steve Jobs's reaction to his decision. Not only did Rubinstein alienate his former boss, but he set out to prove that he could produce just as innovative products as Apple. Rubinstein had frequently clashed with Jobs and designer Jony Ive over manufacturing costs and hardware issues; leaving Apple and later joining Palm to build WebOS became an opportunity for Rubinstein to prove his former colleagues .
Unsurprisingly, Jobs's had very harsh words for Rubinstein, arguing in Walter Isaacson's biography that HP's efforts had failed. "Hewlett and Packard built a great company, and they thought they had left it in good hands...but now it’s being dismembered and destroyed," Jobs told Isaacson.
"In the end, Ruby’s from HP," Jobs added, a one-two punch that both insulted Rubinstein for lacking Apple's innovative DNA, and insinuated that HP has declined into a second-rate technology company.
Still, seems ready to let bygones be bygones. When The Verge reached him in Mexico, Rubinstein was about ready to head off for a job or a swim or maybe to grab a margarita. When asked about what happened at HP, Rubinstein had a Zen-like response.
"I don't think it really matters at this point," he said. "It's old history at this point."
[Image: Flickr user Zach Stern]