No happy ending for HP

Could the good name and reputation of Hewlett-Packard be tarred with a similar brush to that of the likes of Enron and WorldCom?

It’s looking a distinct possibility if the board room shenanigans that have ripped through the firm’s leadership run a course that can only result in disaster:

As corporate intrigue goes, it is hard to beat this: an uproar over news leaks from the boardroom, a cloak-and-dagger investigation, allegations of spying and double-dealing, and a clash involving some of Silicon Valley’s best-known names that could end in lawsuits and possibly criminal charges.

It’s a story that has been widely reported in US mainstream media and in the blogosphere over the past week. (Curiously, little reporting this side of the Atlantic.) The latest I saw this afternoon is focused on the criminal investigation underway in California relating to identity theft and illegal access to computer records:

[…] The company has landed in a mounting legal and ethical debate for hiring a private investigation firm whose agents impersonated HP officials and journalists to get phone companies to hand over detailed records of home phone calls.

None of the media or blogger commentary I’ve seen is complimentary about HP’s board, with some commentary vilifying individual players in this corporate soap opera.

Investors and others in the financial community will be closely watching what happens next. Some in Hollywood, too, I expect, thinking about what a sellable TV movie this would make.

All the ingredients are there – intrigue, dirty deeds, power struggles, greed, wealth. Sex is all that’s missing, although it must be in there somewhere. Anyway, a good scriptwriter can easily add some spice to the story.

Whatever does happen next, HP clearly has an enormous reputation problem on its hands through the actions and consequences of a dysfunctional board. HP’s communicators have an unenviable job on their hands. If the foundation is shaky, communication can help little.

The real end of the famed HP Way, it seems. Or, as some might see it, the start of a new HP Way.

With not a happy ending in sight.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. neville

    If it were that simple, David, then this would hardly be worth paying much attention to other than reading about the HP board seeking a new chairman.

    From a CNET News interview with HP chairman Patricia Dunn yesterday, posted yesterday evening:

    “I am not happy that the way this investigation has been conducted has led to this major embarrassment,” Dunn said in an interview with CNET Asked if she believed pretexting is illegal, Dunn replied, “I have no idea, but it’s wrong.”

    ‘Major embarrassment’? ‘I have no idea, but it’s wrong’? Good grief.

    Reading the CNET interview, I’m left wondering how on earth someone like Patrica Dunn came to be leader of a company like HP.

    The answer to that lies undoubtedly in the earlier soap opera surrounding the departure of Carly Fiorina.

    In any event, HP’s reputation is going through the wringer as this story still unfolds.

  2. Pam Hobson

    I had 27 fantastic years working for HP, leaving just before the Compaq “merger”. It was always a highly ethical company and one that I was proud to work for. Whatever unfolds, it is a tragedy – thank God that Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard are not around to witness this “major embarrassment”……

  3. Shel Holtz

    I read a item somewhere that included this nugget (paraphrased): “The lighting in the HP boardroom is powered entirely by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard spinning in their graves.”

  4. neville

    So what must employees (and former employees, Pam) be thinking, I wonder. And what effect will this have on morale?

    Project it: negative effect on morale > employees disengaged > potential damage to company performance.

    Just read an interesting post at BloggingStocks which has this succinct comment:

    […] In the post-Enron era, shareholders expect directors and executives to take full responsibility. For example, under the Sarbanes-Oxley law, the CEO and CFO must sign-off on the financials. If the financials are fraudulent, the CEO and CFO are on the hook. It’s simple and effective.

    What is appalling is that – despite the mess, which could have criminal implications – Dunn has not resigned.

  5. David Tebbutt

    The leaking was probably a sign that all was not well in HP.

    The idea of uncovering the leaker was probably no bad thing, since it was clearly a board member.

    The rest is naivety which you can’t really have at board level.

    Resignation would make sense.

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