Bad News Looms: HP Press Conference at 4:05pm ET

Mark Hurd, Hewlett Packard’s CEO and presumptive board chairman, will preside over a press conference today at 4:05pm ET. Yes, that’s after the close of trading . . . on a Friday.

Professional practitioners of public and investor relations prefer to release bad news, when the release of such news is unavoidable, after the close of trading on Friday. It gives market makers a few days to digest the news and vitiates the inevitable impact on the company brand and the share price.

So, we know bad news is coming from HP. Now, the question is, how bad will the news be?

I don’t think we’ll see the resignation of Mark Hurd, not yet, anyway.

Still, the deepening corporate-espionage scandal at HP — which saw the company employ a mix of KGB and Nixonesque tactics against board members, its own employees, and journalists, all in a misdirected bid to uncover board-level leaks to the press — will claim some well-coiffed scalps at Hewlett Packard before it is over. Some sacrifices, in fact, are likely to be made today on the altar of corporation expiation. The goal will be to mollify corporate-governance critics, to burnish a tarnished (and once shiny) corporate image, and to stop the sudden (as of yesterday) hemorrhaging of HP’s stock price, which had performed exceptionally well under the stewardship of Mark Hurd until now.

I think HP should completely reconfigure and repopulate its bunker-mentality board of directors. If the wholesale resignations of the entire board aren’t part of tonight’s announcement, HP will have failed to do what’s right, yet again. Patricia Dunn, in particular, should never attend another HP board meeting. The damage she has done to the company’s image is incalculable, and it’s shocking that Hurd, and many others within HP, has taken so long to recognize that fact. Maybe, as recent evidence suggests, they are more closely intertwined in this scandal than initial indications led us to believe.

HP also should dismiss its general counsel, Ann Baskins, who appears to have been far too close to the investigative shenanigans for anybody’s comfort. Maybe some of HP’s security honchos should get the boot, too. As I said at the beginning, folks, this is a serious matter, and I’m somewhat surprised that it took the market so long to figure that out.

A few good recent articles on the unfolding scandal have been provided by Reuters, which wondered whether Mark Hurd will face increasing pressure to resign; by Thomas Kostigen, at MarketWatch, who wonders whether all the trendy talk about business and corporate ethics is just a load of eyewash; and by Business Week, which examines a pervasive culture of fear and suspicion that seems to have enveloped HP late in Carly Fiorina’s reign and has gotten worse subsequent to Hurd’s ascension.

A pet peeve of mine is business journalism that attributes far too much brilliance, expertise, knowledge, sagacity, and importance to the man or woman who inhabits the CEO position. Yes, it’s a an important job, but nobody is indispensable. Not Mark Hurd, not anybody. HP had good and bad years, good and bad experiences, before Mark Hurd, and they’ll do likewise long after he leaves the building, regardless of whether he’s pushed out imminently or whether he leaves years from now.

Finally, as the Associated Press’ Brian Bergstein wrote a couple days ago, HP’s unhealthy paranoia has taken it into the realm of the disturbingly bizarre. HP employees must be ashamed and embarrassed at what their supposed corporate superiors have done to their company in the name of confidentiality.


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