Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Mark Hurd Doesn't Want You to Read the Letter That Cost Him His Job

Mark Hurd doesn’t want you to read the letter that set in motion his ouster from the top job at Hewlett-Packard.

This is understandable, but one has to wonder–if the letter were to be made public, would that be so bad?

The episode involving the sometimes actress and former HP contractor Jodie Fisher turned into one of the more prurient news events of late in Silicon Valley.

While the nature of the relationship was much debated–although both denied it was sexual–attention quickly turned to expense reports Hurd had filed that HP alleged covered up his travels to meet with Fisher.

It all started with a letter sent by Fisher’s lawyers to HP that contained allegations of sexual harassment, which supposedly occurred during a period running from 2007 to 2009.

And as The Wall Street Journal reported today, the letter also alleged that during one of their visits in 2008, Hurd told her about about HP’s then-confidential plan to acquire IT services firm EDS.

It’s this significant allegation that has attracted the attention of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, as the Journal reported earlier this week.

That’s because when CEOs talk out of school about confidential deals in progress, shareholder interests are at stake, and questions arise about what was said and to whom.

And while Fisher isn’t said to have traded on the information, making SEC charges ultimately unlikely, loose lips on Hurd’s part would be a very big no-no.

The letter is also evidence in a shareholder lawsuit against HP before the Delaware Chancery Court. Plaintiffs want the letter, currently sealed, to be made public. Hurd’s lawyers have filed a motion asking that it remain sealed. The judge will rule on the issue early next year.

Given what’s publicly known about the letter so far–and about a second letter from Fisher that followed it–one has to wonder whether Hurd might be better off if the judge rules in favor of disclosure, even if the letter contains some personally embarrassing allegations about his behavior.

We’ll see. The worst thing so far emerging from them is that Hurd appears to have used HP funds to pay for Fisher’s travel and meals and done a little administrative tap dancing with his expense reports. On top of that, the letter alleges that he talked too much about a pending deal.

And while the letter did contain allegations of sexual harassment, Fisher went on to say in public that she never intended for the matter to cost Hurd his job. And she later sent the board a second letter recanting certain unspecified “inaccuracies.”

Thus, the second letter may cancel out some of the more salacious actions alleged in the first. An internal investigation by HP found that Hurd didn’t violate the company’s own sexual harassment policy. And Hurd eventually reached a private settlement with Fisher.

But maintaining the seal on the letters only fans the public curiosity about them. A little sunlight on both letters may reveal their contents to be, well, mostly boring, even if marginally titillating.

And this may go a long way toward repairing Hurd’s dented reputation.

Releasing the controversial letters will also give HP shareholders something they’ve wanted since this entire episode began: The full story.

HP lost a lot of its market value when Hurd left, and its share price has not yet recovered. And Hurd wound up working for a competitor, Oracle.

None of this is an optimal outcome by any reasonable measure. So, it’s fair to say HP shareholders are entitled to a much more thorough explanation of the circumstances that led its board to show Hurd the door.

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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”