Unless somebody on HP’s board of directors gets drunk at a party or has a nervous breakdown, I don’t think we’ll learn anything else of significance about why, exactly, Mark Hurd was ousted from his big chair at the company he led since the boardroom putsch that dethroned Carly Fiorina in 2005.
Larry Ellison has leaped, presumably over a tennis net, to his buddy Hurd’s defense. That was to be expected. The men are friends, after all, and they were both CEOs with colorful pasts, though of different hues. Ellison, of course, remains a CEO, but not so Hurd.
Now that the story seemingly is winding down, much to the relief of the HP board, we can only wonder at what it was all about. I’m not the only one who thinks HP’s official story isn’t the real or whole story. Still, it’s the one the company is sticking with, and nobody on the outside can produce factual evidence to refute it.
That doesn’t mean we have to believe it, though. Consumers, whether of information or goods and services, should always inoculate themselves with a healthy dose of skepticism, especially when they’re being sold something that seems of questionable authenticity.
Of all the theories about what led to Hurd’s walking of the plank, the one put forward by PC World’s Tony Bradley strikes me as closest to the mark, if you’ll pardon the pun. I invite you to read it, and to consider other scenarios that have been advanced elsewhere.
In my view, HP’s board must have had compelling reasons, other than those they’ve cited, for dumping the company’s president, CEO, and chairman. In an ideal world, a corporate chieftain might be brought low by the ethical transgression of filing inaccurate expense reports. Alas, this is not an ideal world, and we know companies will go to great lengths to protect those they deem of great value.
That HP chose not to go to those lengths to protect Hurd tells us something. It tells us that Hurd might have done something far worse than what he’s been charged with doing by the HP board of directors; or that the HP board no longer valued him, and was looking for a pretext or rationale to part company with him.
Too Much of a Harsh Thing?
The second explanation seems the simplest, and therefore the most likely. As I noted in an earlier post, the feeling from some within HP — and from within certain high-value customers — seems to have been that the company had gone overboard with its operational austerity measures, slashing muscle and bone as well as fat. HP had eschewed innovation in favor of cost controls and relentless commoditization. That goes so far, but no farther — and it fails to create the next big thing.
Hurd wasn’t the CTO, so perhaps it wasn’t his job to be creative or to nurture innovations. But his lean, mean regimen, according to some, made it difficult for anybody else to do that job.
Perhaps the HP board believed that Hurd had done all that he could do for the company, that it was time for a cultural shift toward a corporate glasnost that might revive some of the creativity and innovation that Hurd had left behind. As a theory, it’s at least as convincing as the case HP has made for its decision to push its chief executive overboard with his pockets full of cash.