HP Wears New Hats In Crisis

The economic crisis is thrusting Hewlett-Packard, the world's largest technology company, into the role of lender and overall problem-solver to thousands of struggling Russian contractors and distributors, said Owen Kemp, HP's managing director in Russia.

"I'm sure many of our clients and contractors across Russia expect us to help with issues like stock replenishment, credit facilities and budgetary problems during this crisis," Kemp said in an interview this week.

"Our extensive distributive network obliges us to monitor the situation and support our clients by offering them credit lines and help stabilize their businesses," he said.

HP, whose businesses worldwide employ 300,000 people and are valued at $118.4 billion, roughly the size of Kazakhstan's economy, has only a third of its businesses in the United States, while the rest are in emerging markets such as Russia.

Kemp said HP-Russia, which employs 1,200 people, has been growing faster than the domestic IT market for the past five years.

The company now operates 10 offices in the country's seven federal districts and plans to open six more in the coming year.

HP's greatest challenge going into 2009 is figuring out how to provide effective regional coverage in a country that spans 11 time zones, Kemp said. Offering sales support services can be daunting for a company that offers 20,000 different products, he said.

"This is easy with individual customers, but if you are dealing with banks and stock exchanges you cannot be down," Kemp said.

"You need a stock of spare parts and the educated technicians to handle hour-round repairs. Even in the provinces, customers are becoming more demanding."

The crisis will not change HP's philanthropic programs, including grants to technical universities and research institutions in the form of equipment, cash grants and technical expertise, Kemp said.