By Gabriel Madway

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Will Hewlett-Packard Co's
most important competitor in the next decade be Apple Inc,
Cisco Systems Inc or IBM? Look to its choice of CEO for the
answer.

Although the controversy over Mark Hurd's resignation is
likely to percolate for some time, investor attention is
already shifting to the future as the world's No.1 PC maker
searches for a new chief executive and chairman.

Many analysts are betting HP will go outside its ranks to
pick a new leader to ramp up topline growth, as it did to hire
Hurd in 2005, and Carly Fiorina in 1999.

Whoever it picks will have big shoes to fill: while Hurd
was ousted for allegedly fudging expense reports to conceal a
relationship with a female contractor, he was well respected on
Wall Street and credited with reviving HP's fortunes.

Since he took the reins in 2005, HP's market value has more
than doubled to roughly $100 billion. Hurd's tenure saw one of
Silicon Valley's most iconic firms become the world's largest
tech company by revenue.

But given HP's size -- it is a sprawling company with more
than 300,000 employees -- ramping up top-line growth will be a
challenge for whoever succeeds Hurd.

"Whoever they name as a successor, investors are going to
read that as a signal for the direction they're taking," said
Stifel Nicolaus analyst Aaron Rakers.

HP's most direct competitor is arguably now International
Business Machines Corp (IBM), which like HP sells hardware,
software and technology services to the world's biggest
companies. Several IBM executives including Steve Mills have
been cited by analysts as potential CEO candidates for HP.

But HP also faces a new rival in Cisco, which is trying to
get into the computer server market to complement its network
equipment business, and run all aspects of the corporate data
center. If HP pursued someone like Cisco Chief Strategy Officer
Ned Hooper as CEO, that would be read as a sign it planned to
move aggressively into the network gear business.

Last but not least, Apple is also emerging as a fierce
rival for HP as the popularity of the iPad threatens to
redefine computing, while the iPhone continues to win market
share in the mobile market.

As HP prepares to enter both the tablet and the smartphone
market following its acquisition of Palm Inc, Apple Chief
Operating Officer Tim Cook has been floated by analysts as
potentially an ambitious hire.

PLETHORA OF OPTIONS

HP said its search committee is moving as quickly as
possible to find a new CEO, keen to put the controversy behind
it. Hurd's surprise resignation on Friday sent shares plunging
10 percent in after-hours trade.

The company has accused the married, 53-year-old Hurd of
falsifying expense reports to conceal a "close personal
relationship" with a female contractor, who was identified by
her attorney on Sunday as Jodie Fisher.

Some analysts say the standout in-house successor for Hurd
is Todd Bradley, who leads the company's PC group and helped HP
surpass Dell Inc in 2006 to again become the world's largest
maker of personal computers.

But the PC unit, which delivers big sales but low margins,
will not ultimately drive HP's growth, others say. That will
come from technology services, and in new business areas such
as network equipment.

"This is a company that is shifting into growth mode and I
think that enterprise focus is a big area," said Stifel's
Rakers.

Many names have surfaced over the past 48 hours, including
EMC Corp's Pat Gelsinger, Microsoft Corp's Stephen Elop, along
with other numerous executives from companies including Oracle
Corp and Intel Corp.

Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds said HP should hire an
executive with a sales and marketing background, given that
Hurd already left the sprawling business on solid footing.

"It has the operational discipline in place, the hard work
has been done. Now it's a question of bringing someone in to
put that vision on top," he said.

HP's decision to pluck Hurd from the much smaller NCR Corp
worked well in 2005, but Reynolds said it may be trickier to
pick an unknown name this time since the new CEO would need to
quickly gain the respect of HP's powerful and experienced
leadership team. "Obscurity is okay, but they're going to have
to be really tough," he said.

With HP fighting battles on a number of fronts, Morningstar
analyst Michael Holt said: "They need somebody who has the
big-picture vision about how all these pieces come together.
That's what Hurd was doing."

Because HP is already so big, its challenge is to sell more
and different kinds of equipment to existing customers, he
said. "I like HP in spite of the PC business, not because of
it," said Holt.

Besides Bradley, there are others in HP who could gun for
the top job, such as Ann Livermore, head of HP's enterprise
business. However, some are skeptical that HP would pick
Livermore as she was already passed over in 2005.

Another dark horse internal candidate is Dave Donatelli, a
highly-regarded but relative newcomer who leads HP's enterprise
servers, storage and networking business.

Interim CEO Cathie Lesjak, who is HP's chief financial
officer, has removed herself from consideration. On Sunday, she
acknowledged Hurd's contribution to HP's success, but said
investors understood that its management team is strong.

"One thing changed in this company on Friday and that was
the CEO left," Lesjak said on a conference call. "The rest of
the company has not changed. (Reporting by Gabriel Madway;
Editing by Tiffany Wu and Valerie Lee)