After months of being pummelled for firing financially successful CEO Mark Hurd, HP’s board has finally done what it should have done at the beginning: Tell the whole story.The board didn’t tell the story in a press release (which would have looked strange this far after the fact–and might have violated a confidentiality agreement with Hurd). It told told it via the Wall Street Journal, on background. But all the missing details are finally there.
(And given that the board has kept the story secret until now, we have little doubt that the WSJ story was carefully coordinated and placed. The only mystery is why the board waited so long to tell it.)
And what’s the bottom line?
After an investigation into the sexual harassment allegations Jodie Fisher detailed against Mark Hurd, the board no longer had confidence that Hurd was being straight with them. They couldn’t prove he was lying, but his story shifted enough over the course of the investigation that they no longer believed his denials. And so they canned him.
And under the same circumstances, any competent board would have done the same.
Believing that an employee is lying to you, even when you can’t prove it, is more than enough grounds for termination. Because this particular employee had a contract that presumably specified that he could only be fired for “cause,” the board was presumably (and justifiably) worried that it would not be able to prove the “cause” if the case ever ended up in court. And that explains Hurd’s huge severance payment.
The HP board did blow it here, in several respects. But based on the details in the WSJ, the errors appear to have been in how the board negotiated the severance and communicated the reasons for Hurd’s termination rather than the termination itself.
The one thing every employee needs to do is maintain the trust and support of the people he or she works for. Mark Hurd failed to do that. And for that he has only himself to blame.