Leaks Revisited

Mark Hurd is exiting HP as he entered the company five years ago: complaining bitterly about leaks to the press. He had every right to be angry in 2005, when Business Week jumped the gun on the news of his surprise hiring as HP’s CEO. Now, not so much.

Hurd is said to be “dismayed by how HP handled its public relations and news leaks” in the wake of his firing, according to a Reuter‘s story that is the latest salvo in the war of spin pitting HP’s disgraced former CEO against the board that ousted him.

It’s been widely reported that Hurd abruptly settled the sexual harassment claim brought against him by Jodie Fisher on his own, short-circuiting the board’s investigation into the matter.  Hurd begs to differ, according to Reuter’s anonymous pro-Hurd source: “In particular, he was angry at apparent leaks from HP’s board last Sunday that claimed his decision to settle the claim with Fisher had interfered with the board’s probe. He called those reports complete ‘lies,’ the source said.”

Who to believe? It’s impossible to say with any certainty, since no smoking-gun emails or other documents have yet to surface, and neither Hurd nor any HP director has been willing to step out from behind the blind of anonymity the media has constructed for them and be quoted by name.

I do know this, though. During the Spygate scandal, Hurd  effectively “hijacked HP’s internal investigation,” as Joe Nocera  put it in his recent New York Times column by “hiring an outside law firm and ordering it to report directly to him, instead of the board, which is the normal practice.” Having been outmaneuvered by Hurd once before, the HP board was not about to cede its authority to investigate Fisher’s accusations to the CEO or anyone else. What’s important is that board found ample reason to fire Hurd, whether in fact he settled unilaterally with Fisher or not.

The terms of Hurd’s settlement with Fisher swear her to secrecy. However, Hurd’s attempt to keep the sexual harassment complaint against him under wraps failed when HP’s board decided to disclose it rather than risk that it would leak to the press. Reuter’s source says that the board should have taken this risk because ”Hurd had been prepared to confront the media firestorm if it leaked.”

This last bit is downright laughable. When the Spygate media firestorm engulfed HP in 2006, Hurd completely vanished from public view, leaving Chairman Pattie Dunn to take the heat. When the CEO finally was forced from his bunker to appear at an HP press conference, he was shaky and evasive, refusing to take questions after nervously reading a prepared statement.

If Hurd is outraged by the HP board’s conduct in firing him, he should step into the firestorm that is scorching HP anew and make the case himself, instead of through nameless proxies. As it is, I see no reason to give the ex-CEO the benefit of the doubt on any claim advanced anonymously on his behalf.

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