Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Will HP Now Stand for Hanky Panicky or Should It Settle With Hurd Over Oracle and Make It All Go Away?

Doubtlessly, in some business tome to come, it will all be depicted in glorious detail.

And here are three real-life scenes where BoomTown would desperately have loved to be a fly on the wall:

First: The boardroom perusal of the contents of the eight-page letter from former Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) outside contractor Jodie Fisher, sent to former CEO Mark Hurd, which set in motion the circumstances of his ouster–including the odd investigation into that personal relationship that only managed to turn up dicey expense reports.

Second: The welcome-to-the company-and-screw-HP pep talk that Oracle (ORCL) CEO Larry Ellison delivered to Hurd in appointing him co-president and also a director of the database giant.

And third: The furious HP board racing to the door to file a lawsuit against Hurd for the move.

What happens next should be interesting, especially since the idea of settlement has never been one of the tools in Ellison’s wheelhouse, who is doubtlessly egging Hurd on here.

And, after yet another curveball thrown up by Hurd, it is probably not what HP’s board is angling for either.

But perhaps–after all this mishegas–it is precisely what the tech giant should do, focusing instead on finding a new leader to compete with challenges from companies, such as, well…Oracle.

As it was obligated to do, the lawsuit that HP has filed runs through all the typical charges in cases such as this–almost all of which center on the use of confidential information and how Hurd was paid off not to do exactly what he has done.

It certainly is a lot of money–estimated to be about $35 million, depending on HP’s stock price–and hinges on a two-year confidentiality agreement Hurd agreed to.

HP is correctly avoiding any noncompete language, since California–the state where both Oracle and HP are based–shoots holes in those kinds of defenses.

Instead, as it noted in its lawsuit, HP alleges that Hurd “cannot perform his job at Oracle without disclosing or utilizing HP’s trade secrets and confidential information.”

Of course he cannot, but this should not keep HP’s board from settling, as much as it will pain it to do.

Such a move could not have been helped by Ellison’s typically outrageous remarks about how HP treated Hurd, calling the break between them “the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago.”

And then yesterday’s statement by Ellison: “By filing this vindictive lawsuit against Oracle and Mark Hurd, the HP board is acting with utter disregard for that partnership, our joint customers, and their own shareholders and employees. The HP Board is making it virtually impossible for Oracle and HP to continue to cooperate and work together in the IT marketplace.”

Of course, that’s just the kind of let’s-go-to-the-mattresses noise that HP needs to ignore, now that the longtime partners are clear rivals after Oracle’s $7.4 billion acquisition of computer maker Sun Microsystems.

This purchase put Oracle directly into the server and data-storage-systems business for the first time.

That’s the real reality for HP–and not the delicious “Real Housewives of Silicon Valley” reality show this has turned into.

And–as much as I would like to see Ellison upending a table onto HP board member Marc Andreessen–no amount of legal and public wrangling with Hurd is going to change that.

If it could not work with him any longer–a corporate psychodrama about which there is still much unsaid–HP needs to move on.

Of course, Hurd should not get off for manipulating the bad situation so deftly either, and perhaps should offer to return some, if not all, of the severance paid for his silence.

Or, it could all just come out in open court and give the world a glimpse into all the twisty machinations that got us here.

Which, as you might imagine, is just fine by me–although not so much for the shareholders of HP.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work