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Dunn editorial officially ends the 'HP Way'

Dysfunctional and proud of it

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The only real leak of any substance is one that Dunn also points to quite often. On 5 January, 2006, the Wall Street Journal wrote a story about HP considering CSC as an acquisition target. That story rattled CSC's share price higher, and a following story saying that HP was no longer pursuing the buy sent CSC shares back down.

Dunn contends that such leaks could have put the company in violation of securities laws.

That argument is true to a degree. Companies detest leaks about mergers and acquisitions more than anything else out of a need for self-preservation, competitiveness, and legal concerns. As you all know, however, such leaks will happen, but that doesn't mean the rare dribbles should spark Nixon era probes.

What's remarkable is that between mid 2005 and January 2006, when HP paused one investigation before starting another, the company faced plenty of other leaks. You've got HP "exiting" the switching market, releasing a new server line and other tidbits about whom CEO Mark Hurd pals around with.

Dunn, however, maintains that "the leaks ceased or at least slowed dramatically", during this period.

In actual fact, the leaks showing how dysfunctional HP's board was slowed, but the leaks about "strategy, product development" and the like continued.

Are we to believe Dunn then when she portrays the well-being of HP as her most pressing concern? Or was it rather that HP's board was more worried about how awful it looked to the public?

Well, it's tough to believe much of what Dunn says given her floundering prose. She claims to be "still learning about some of the techniques that were used or contemplated" during HP's investigation. This is a statement meant to show how complex and tough to understand the investigatory tactics were to a laywoman. Anyone with half a brain can see how suspect HP's methods were in just a few minutes.

Dunn parses words elsewhere too. She only thought the practices were legal because people assured her they were. She did not oversee the investigation, she only authorised it, encouraged it, heard reports about it, and sought funding for it.

Dunn, of course, isn't to blame for all this. She learned to accept a dysfunctional board under Fiorina and under Hurd. And it's amazing to see how proud HP executives are of this fact.

Fiorina, for example, has spent the last week reminding people again and again that her board was dysfunctional. They were so messed up that they fired her without warning. Then, three people who don't seem to get along well – Dunn, Tom Perkins and George Keyworth – picked the next CEO. All three directors have since left HP's board because of its dysfunction, and a thinned out dysfunctional board has promoted Hurd to the chairman slot.

Longtime HP CFO and one-time HP CEO Bob Wayman has sat by through much of this dysfunction, as has Hurd who received warning from Perkins months ago that this spy scandal would be made public. Did Hurd bother to read the report about the spy scandal or face the situation seriously? No, he hired a law firm to deal with the mess three days after the press already had all the information.

The HP Way now seems to be one in which dysfunction is tolerated over the course of many years without anyone trying to do anything about it. Don't take responsibility for mistakes or try to correct them. Just blame a dysfunctional board for your mistakes – even if you're a board member.

We can only assume that this will continue until Hurd is left as the only board member. Perhaps he can be functional on his own.

In the meantime, it's fitting to see Dunn write about the HP Way for the Wall Street Journal - a newspaper that HP spied on. Now we can all stop pretending the tagline has any meaning left. ®

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