VC Ben Horowitz Takes Aim at HP Critics (Are You Listening, Larry and Jack?)
Today, in a sharply worded post titled “In Defense of Standards, Ethics, and Honest Financial Reporting at Hewlett-Packard,” prominent venture capitalist Ben Horowitz took to his blog to shoot back at the plethora of critics of the Hewlett-Packard board for their conduct related to the controversial jettisoning of CEO Mark Hurd.
That came after Hurd admitted to filing inaccurate expense reports related to an outside contractor who worked closely with him, and who later alleged sexual harassment on his part. Those charges were dropped after Hurd settled with the woman, named Jodie Fisher, but before HP could complete an investigation.
Now Horowitz has fired back and here’s a taste of his ire, which is aimed at execs, the media and more:
If a CEO is prone to compromise for any reason, he will have every reason. This time it was his expense report. Next time will it be a marginal accrued liability? A deal that came in at 12:01 am on the last day of the quarter? This is a slippery slope that a public board simply cannot tolerate.
Who is Jodie Fisher? According to press reports, Fisher is a former Playboy model, reality show contestant, and softcore porn movie actress with no work history relevant to her job with HP. She was hired by Hewlett-Packard and paid up to $5,000 per meeting to meet with Fortune 50 CEOs.
The mainstream press has reported these facts as mundane, ordinary, and hardly worth concern. I disagree. HP employs over 300,000 people. Every single one of HP’s employees is keenly interested in the qualities, skill sets, and behaviors that HP values most. Financial compensation and access to the CEO are the most important ways that HP communicates what it values to its employees. Jodie Fisher had more access to the CEO and was paid more than 99.9% of HP’s workforce, despite having no traditional qualifications.
It’s important to note that this was not Hurd paying for his personal extracurricular activity out of his own pocket. This was the Hewlett-Packard Corporation paying a softcore porn movie star with no relevant work experience more than it pays Harvard graduates with 20 years of industry experience. This was the company spitting in the face of the people who worked hard and sacrificed every day to help the company win in the market. It was completely and categorically unacceptable.
There are many who take the view that business is singular in purpose–to increase shareholder value. They further take the position that constraining that purpose in any way is inefficient and counterproductive. The mainstream press seems to have broadly adopted this position in its attacks on HP. The Wall Street Journal Op Ed page even complained that businesses were being held to an unfair standard when compared to politicians.
I do not subscribe to this view. Running our companies with no moral or ethical standards is bad for society, bad for the country, and ultimately leads to criminal behavior.
So, what do you really think, Ben?
Horowitz does have an interest in the situation, which he discloses clearly at the top of his piece: His longtime business and now venture partner is HP (HPQ) board member Marc Andreessen.
And the Silicon Valley soap opera continues….