Monday, August 16, 2010

Hurd It All?

Okay. What does Hewlett Packard do now?

Mark Hurd, the company’s astonishingly successful CEO, was forced to resign following charges that he had padded his expense account and unsubstantiated allegations that he sexually harassed an employee.

The action was taken on the advice of a public relations firm which, according to The New York Times, urged the company to disclose accusations of sexual harassment against Mr. Hurd, but “did not advise the company to oust him.”

I can see how full disclosure and transparency might have seemed on target for a company like HP, which had a history of controversies and a somewhat secretive culture under Hurd’s predecessors, including Carly Fiorina. But, hey, did anyone consider the media firestorm and controversy that would ensue? Is this “role-model” action? Or is it a case of the punishment not fitting the crime? In an email to The Times, Oracle CEO Lawrence Ellison called the HP Board’s forced resignation of Hurd “the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Job many years ago.”

The fallout from what the board ostensibly thought was great advice turns out to have created a credibility problem for HP. Is the company blaming the public relations firm? If not, who revealed the existence of the PR firm? All a PR firm can do anyway is to provide counsel; clients make decisions. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the PR firm did not anticipate all the consequences of the advice or provide enough information on the “sins” to justify the punishment. To what extent were the expense accounts “padded”? Was it $22 or $2,200 or $22,000? And where is the evidence? If it was a piddling amount, where does common sense end and morality begin? Fudging an expense account for a small sum, though blatantly dishonest, rarely is a reason for termination or forced resignation. Perhaps this was just a convenient excuse for a more fundamental problem with Mark Hurd's leadership.

Thus, isn’t it time that HP’s chairman of the board stand up and speak out? By delivering the right information and addressing the issue of whether or not the punishment truly fits the crime — or whether Hurd’s forced resignation was the result of a core issue not really addressed in this incident at all — he alone can provide a credible rationale, and thereby play a major role in restoring HP’s credibility. A press release alone will not do.

Technorati Tags: New York Times, Hewlett Packard, Mark Hurd, business, leadership, communications, public relations, Makovsky


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