Stephen Foley: HP investors do not need a muckracking lawsuit over sex claims against ex-boss
Stephen Foley is a former Associate Business Editor of The Independent, based in New York. He left in August 2012. In a decade at the paper, he covered personal finance, the UK stock market and the pharmaceuticals industry, and had also been the Business section's share tipster. Between arriving with three suitcases in Manhattan in January 2006 and his departure, he witnessed and reported on a great economic boom turning spectacularly to bust. In March 2009, he was named Business and Finance Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards.
Saturday 31 December 2011
US Outlook: There are too many claims and counter-claims to be sure what Mark Hurd, the ousted chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, really told the soft porn actress-turned-corporate hostess Jodie Fisher, but we can be pretty sure he was telling porkies when he boasted that Sheryl Crow was madly in love with him.
Mr Hurd, you will remember, was forced from his job in 2010 afterMs Fisher claimed sexual harassment, and the HP board, while finding no evidence to support that claim, discovered expenses irregularities and other lapses of judgement by its chief executive.
We have just got sight of that first letter from Ms Fisher's lawyers, in which she alleges that Mr Hurd tried to wow her with tales of his deal-doing prowess, revealed how he kept over $1m in his current account, and hinted that he had singer-songwriters all over the US fawning for him. Since Ms Fisher had just been hired to run corporate events for HP, their candlelight dinners and hotel room meetings were highly inappropriate, to say the least. Mr Hurd settled with Ms Fisher privately, and says the letter contains numerous inaccuracies, but if even a handful of the claims are true, HP was right to push him overboard. It would have had trouble enforcing ethics policies lower down the company if it had not.
It's water under the bridge now. The letter was unsealed by a court this week as a result of legal action by an HP shareholder, Ernesto Espinoza, who thinks HP's board acted against investor interests during the Hurd scandal. But it is Mr Espinoza's expensive muckraking lawsuit which is against investor interests.
HP's board has indeed been one of the most dysfunctional in Silicon Valley, riven by factions and unable to articulate a clear strategy for a company in crisis. But it actually acted decisively, courageously and correctly over Mr Hurd. Under its new chief executive, Meg Whitman, it is focusing, finally, on the future. The last thing it needs are re-runs of an old soap opera.
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