Meg Whitman, chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, this week took the first step on what she warned will be a long road back for Silicon Valley’s broadest computing conglomerate. The decision to merge HP’s PC and printer divisions is also the first demonstration of a management approach that Ms Whitman hopes can be applied to the company’s other businesses. The core of the plan: fewer products, lower costs, greater simplicity of operations.

“It took us a while to get where we are, and it will take us a while to get out,” Ms Whitman declared on Thursday as she addressed HP’s annual shareholder meeting for the first time since she took the top job at the company in September. The former chief executive of Ebay last month painted a bleak picture of HP’s immediate business prospects, as it revealed in its latest earnings report that it was losing ground on all fronts.

That there will be no quick fixes was evident from the reaction to HP’s plan to combine its PC and printing businesses. Together, the divisions account for roughly half of its sales, and analysts anticipated a difficult period ahead as Todd Bradley, already head of the PC division, seeks to streamline the combined operations.

Ms Whitman used her speech to shareholders to issue a rallying cry for a company that she said still held a leading position in virtually all of its markets. However, she also said that it would need to prune its product lines heavily and hinted at big job cuts to come, declaring: “Our cost structure is not sustainable.”

HP’s shares slipped by more than 6 per cent on the week.

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