Dunn editorial officially ends the 'HP Way'

Dysfunctional and proud of it

Opinion Former HP chairman Patricia Dunn has displayed remarkable courage during the unravelling of the company's spy scandal. Where others might hide behind humility and full disclosure, Dunn has bravely moved to rewrite history and fashion her image in something approaching a decent light.

Those wondering about the source for such audacity need not look far. Dunn learned how to shun responsibility – and for that matter reality – while serving at the pleasure of HP's inglorious board.

Dunn – or some underling pretending to be Dunn – penned a recent editorial for the Wall Street Journal dubbed simply "The HP Way". How fitting that Dunn would pick the very publication she blames for making HP's internal discord public as the vehicle for her most up-to-date absolution of any sins. Never shy from seizing on an opportunity, right?

"Throughout the (investigation) process, I asked and was assured – by both HP's internal security department and the company's top lawyers, both verbally and in writing – that the work being undertaken to investigate and discover these leaks was legal, proper, and consistent with the HP way of performing investigations," Dunn writes.

Those who have read Dave Packard's book The HP Way will note that the chapter dealing with spying on directors and reporters is thin. It's, in fact, so thin that you're likely to miss it no matter how many times you read the book. Perhaps an HP insider like Dunn has a secret unedited version of Packard's book that includes the spy bits and other chapters on shirking responsibility.

The rest of Dunn's editorial borrows heavily from the works of Disney and the Brothers Grimm.

For example, Dunn calls out one section form HP's Standards of Business Conduct. "You may not grant interviews or provide comments to the press without prior approval from HP Corporate Communications . . ."

In reality, such discussions between the press and company officials occur all the time, and Dunn knows it. More often than not, these chats benefit the company. Few executives have the motivation or desire to undermine their work. The swapping of information between company officials and reporters is part of the lubricant of business, and corporate communications officials often undermine the practice. HP knew this and authorised officials to speak with reporters from time to time to nudge the scribes in the right direction.

The point here isn't that directors should be leaking harmful information. They shouldn't. The point is rather that the issue is not as black and white as Dunn makes it.

Also in the editorial, Dunn writes that "the most sensitive aspects of a company's business come before its board: strategy, executive succession, acquisitions, new product development. This is exactly the type of information a company's competitors and those who trade in its stock would love to have before information is properly disseminated".

Let's remember that the vast majority of newsy nuggets doled out to the press by members of HP's board were not really newsy at all. One director whined about being tired after working all day for HP. He also revealed that HP hoped to sell lots of its Opteron servers, which can only be viewed as juicy if you assume that HP secretly planned to sell hardly any Opteron servers. Elsewhere, there were leaks about HP pushing out Carly Fiorina and a "dysfunctional" board.

After watching Fiorina be fired in a humiliating fashion, few observers would need a reporter to assure them of management discord.

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