The search to find a chief executive to replace Carly Fiorina won't be easy. Aside from MCI Chief Executive Michael Capellas, who knows...

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — The search to find a chief executive to replace Carly Fiorina won’t be easy.

Aside from MCI Chief Executive Michael Capellas, who knows Hewlett-Packard from the inside of its merger with Compaq when he was president of the combined company, there isn’t an obvious candidate who can do the job and who might be available. HP’s board of directors will have its hands full searching for the right person over the six months or so it could take, observers say.

Among the qualifications needed for the job: someone who has been a CEO, is hands-on with operations, knows the technology industry, understands how large Fortune 50 companies operate and is young enough to run the company for a long time. This person has to get along with an opinionated board of directors. And he or she must fit in with HP’s employee culture but can’t be viewed as an insider opposed to change. In some of these areas, Fiorina fell short, and it’s hard to find anyone who fits the bill completely.

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“They need someone to do what Lou Gerstner did for IBM, but it isn’t obvious who that person is,” said Mel Connet, CEO of executive-search firm Connet in Menlo Park, Calif. “I think they need someone who has skills at running a very large enterprise. They need someone to reinvigorate the company, and that means it can’t be someone from the inside.”

Added Carl Claunch, an analyst at Gartner: “They will likely need a very details-oriented operations executive. Someone who has run a conglomerate and can juggle 20 balls at once is probably better than someone who knows the technology industry well.”

As an $80 billion company, HP is big enough to attract the best candidates and can afford to look anywhere for its next chief.

Who can lead Hewlett-Packard?

Among those mentioned as outside candidates are Mike Zafirovski, former chief operating officer of Motorola; John Thompson, CEO of Symantec and a former top IBM executive; Antonio Perez, a former HP printer-division chief and president of Eastman Kodak; Rick Belluzzo, another former HP injket chief who is CEO of Quantum; former Apple Chief Financial Officer Fred Anderson; former Oracle President Ray Lane; former PeopleSoft CEO Craig Conway; and Xerox CEO Ann Mulcahy.

If HP can poach from IBM, candidates include IBM sales chief Doug Elix and services head John Joyce.

Interim CEO Bob Wayman says he will return to the chief financial officer job once the CEO is found. Elsewhere inside the company, candidates include Vyomesh Joshi, who runs the newly combined computer and printer divisions; Ann Livermore, who runs the services and enterprise hardware divisions; and Shane Robison, who is chief technology officer and runs strategy. Among those, Joshi is often described as the most dynamic and successful.

But HP’s new chairman, Patricia Dunn, said Wednesday that the next CEO is likely to come from the outside. And none of those candidates have run a large company before, even if their current responsibilities are huge.

Capellas at MCI has an edge because, as Compaq’s former CEO, he is familiar with the combined company and its management team and has a reputation for running company operations well. He left Compaq six months after the merger was complete in November 2002. But his job at MCI isn’t finished. It also isn’t clear how well he gets along with HP’s board of directors, which apparently chose Fiorina over him before. One plus for Capellas is that Tom Perkins, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and who returned to HP’s board last week, was on Compaq’s board and knows him well.

Capellas also may be committed to MCI, putting him on the list of those qualified to run HP who aren’t likely to be available. Others in this category include Ed Zander, a Silicon Valley veteran who took the job last year as CEO of Motorola; and Paul Otellini, just picked to be the next CEO of Intel.

“They need Steve Jobs, but he’s not available either,” said Mark Stahlman, an analyst at Caris.

HP employees aren’t necessarily going to get a vote. When the board hired Fiorina, it wanted the company to break from the past that employees cherish so much. But part of Fiorina’s failing was in her poor relations with HP employees, who viewed her as having an imperial style, a callous attitude about job cuts and an obsession with Hollywood.

If rapport with employees matters, perhaps Belluzzo and Perez might be in better standing. But those executives haven’t had unblemished business careers since leaving HP.

Belluzzo, lured to Microsoft in 1999 to head its consumer-products unit, resigned as president in 2002 after a falling out with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Four months later, he joined Quantum as chief executive.