Acer Inc. used to market itself as one of the world's leading desktop PC and notebook manufacturers. Even now, promotional materials on the company's website proudly proclaim its position as the "No. 2 for total PCs and notebooks." I fully expect Acer to drop that tagline within months. Why? It's no longer fashionable, profitable, or investor-friendly for OEMs to market themselves as a PC market leader without any mention of leadership in smartphones and tablets, too.
Just ask Gianfraco Lanci. A veteran of the electronics industry, Lanci had helped build Acer's brands, including Gateway, Packard Bell, and eMachines. After pushing Acer into a strong position in Europe, he became CEO of the parent company in 2008. Yesterday, Lanci resigned from Acer "with immediate effect," according to a press release issued by the Taipei-based OEM. Chairman JT Wang has taken over as interim CEO and immediately began a strategic review of the company's future.
Why did Lanci leave so abruptly? With a little hyperbole on my part, I would describe it as the Apple-iPad effect. The runaway success of Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) in the tablet space can hurt manufacturers focused on PCs and notebooks, especially those perceived as not having a strong tablet offering. Acer was one of those manufacturers. The company has limited options for tablet consumers, and the three tablet products it introduced in November are not showing up on anyone's radar.
Acer's tablets certainly aren't being pitched as contenders for Apple's throne as the world's leading vendor of tablet computers. In a review of Acer's tablets rolled out in November, PCMag.com's Lance Ulanoff was less than enthusiastic, noting that the company left out too many details about the products. Furthermore, the Acer tablet products were unnamed and were not expected to hit the market soon. The situation hasn't changed. I combed through Acer's website following Lanci's resignation and couldn't find a single tablet computer to review. If you've seen, bought, or used a tablet PC from Acer, please post a comment below and let me know what you think of it.
Acer obviously wants to play in the tablet market, but where are its first tablet products, when will they hit the market, and how competitive will they be against products from Apple, Motorola Mobility Inc. (NYSE: MMI), and BlackBerry (Nasdaq: RIMM; Toronto: RIM)? Acer has said that it has always striven to be a "mobility" company. In February, during the World Mobile Congress, Acer issued a press release stating that, long ago, it "decided to stake everything on mobility." It recognized that "being able to offer the market a continuity of experience involving netbooks/notebooks, smartphones and tablets is of critical importance."
One would have assumed Lanci agreed with that position, but apparently discussions had been going on behind the scene with the board of directors about Acer's corporate direction. "Lanci held different views from a majority of the board members, and could not reach a consensus following several months of dialog," Acer said in the press release. The board and Lanci "placed different levels of importance on scale, growth, customer value creation, brand position enhancement and on resource allocation and methods of implementation."
To translate that oblique statement into layman's language, Lanci was headed in a direction Acer didn't want to go. However, I'm not exactly clear on the company's plans for the future, even after reading chairman Wang's parting words on Lanci's resignation:
The personal computer remains the core of our business. We have built up a strong foundation and will continue to expand within, especially in the commercial PC segment. In addition, we are stepping into the new mobile device market, where we will invest cautiously and aim to become one of the leading players.
In this new ICT industry, Acer needs a period of time for adjustment. With the spirit of entrepreneurship, we will face new challenges and look to the future with confidence.
I still don't get it. Did Acer think Lanci was being too cautious and behind the times, or was he moving too fast for the board? I am sure of this, though: Acer needs a new CEO and a new catch phrase that's not just about desktop PCs, notebooks, and netbooks. But first, it must show us a set of strong tablet products.