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HP's Hurd vows to be held accountable for all that goes right

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Opinion "Now we know the depth of what has transpired, I take full accountability to drive the actions to set it right," said HP's CEO Mark Hurd yesterday at the company's spy scandal press conference.

Credit goes to HP and Hurd for picking their words so carefully in that statement. Hurd did not take "full accountability" for the ever-worsening spy probe but rather just "full accountability" to make things right.

In a situation such as this, you have to wonder if things can ever be set right. The Hurd era at HP will forever be colored by the stain of this debacle. And it's a stain tinged with a far more aggressive, cutthroat hue than that which existed under previous CEO Carly Fiorina.

On the business front, Hurd brought more accountability than Fiorina. Early in his tenure, Hurd admitted that HP suffered from serious internal problems. He did not shy from making layoffs or tightening retirement pay despite the negative feelings that such moves inspire. Hurd did what he felt was right for HP's business, and, by most accounts, the moves have worked.

But you'll struggle to find a shred of accountability tied to the spy probe.

Let's not forget that Hurd, just like all of HP's board members, misread how to handle this public relations crisis. Rather than immediately dismissing Chairman Patricia Dunn, the company thought it could get away with demoting Dunn in January to sitting as a regular director. In addition, Hurd, just like the rest of HP's board members, allowed weeks to pass with scandalous detail after scandalous detail appearing in myriad press reports instead of admitting all in public.

Former board member Tom Perkins warned HP months ago that he would disclose the company's phoning fraud to the press. And yet, Hurd did not hire a law firm to look into the situation until Sept. 8. - two days after HP confessed to spying on its own board members in an SEC filing.

Even worse, Hurd admits that he didn't follow the leak investigation properly.

"I understand there is also a written report of the investigation addressed to me and others, but I did not read it," he said. "I could have, and I should have."

Don't confuse this laziness with disinterest. Hurd, after all, approved sending a fake e-mail to a reporter in an effort to smoke out the company's boardroom leaker. He was in this thing.

Onlookers will want to note that Dunn actually seems to have been on top of the leak investigation that HP's board approved. She attended full meetings on the probe, while Hurd just popped in for a few minutes. She read the reports, while Hurd did not. And yet it's Dunn who has been offered up the sacrificial lamb, while Hurd has received a promotion to the Chairman post. HP has placed even more power in the hands of a CEO who quite frankly did not do his job.

And now you have Hurd trying to separate the spheres of accountability at HP, slicing the company into boardroom fiasco and business realms.

"I want to reiterate that this has nothing to do with the strategy or operations of Hewlett-Packard or frankly the vast majority of the people of HP," Hurd said.

Nothing to do with the strategy or operations of HP?

You have to think that losing three board members - including the company's Chairman - in a matter of months has something to do with HP's strategy and operations. You have to think that sending multiple HP staff to Washington to testify about this probe affects HP's operations. The same goes for tying up the public relations department around this mess, the lawyers HP has been forced to hire and the time it has had to spend dealing with the catastrophe.

Such issues don't even touch on the damage this fiasco has done to HP's reputation. We'll see if HP's brand battering doesn't affect its strategy and operations in the long run. Don't forget, customers, HP really is listening to you.

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