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HP taps Forbes for new 'Fluff' printing campaign

Hack infiltrates Hurd's brain

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Comment HP CEO Mark Hurd's next cost-cutting measure could come as the company axes its entire public relations staff. Who needs PR professionals, after all, when you have Forbes reporter Quentin Hardy?

In 1999, Hardy gave the world "The Cult of Carly" - an inspirational story about a plucky Texas girl full of business savvy and marketing genius. This time around the hagiographer dished out "The UnCarly" - an equally inspirational story about a coach-cum-business mastermind who can do no wrong.

Hardy's fresh piece on Hurd uses thousands of words to create the picture of a hard-charging, detail-oriented executive up to the task of making HP the most successful technology company known to man.

As Hardy tells it, Hurd "managed to turn humiliation into vindication" by skipping right past HP's spy scandal to establish the printer firm as the world's largest technology vendor, outpacing giant IBM ($91.4bn) with $91.7bn in revenue. Hurd's success stems from laying off 15,000 people, shrinking HP's internal technology costs and giving more control to top managers who are held accountable for results.

Such are the actions of the "consummate corporate coach" who inspires his troops by taking phone calls and reading text messages.

"He leaves 50 voice mails a day and grabs quick updates by cell phone as he marches from one meeting to the next," Hardy writes (Reg Req'd) about Hurd. "He focuses on process and execution, slogging through minute details to get to a clear answer and pressing relentlessly to squeeze out more cost and stir more demand."

Hurd rather notoriously missed out on the "minute details" presented to him by other executives as HP embarked on a far-reaching probe of its executives, employees and reporters. "Not that I recall" was the CEO's favored response to Congressional investigators examining HP's spy operations. Hurd couldn't remember who told him what about the company's internal investigation and closed his testimony with the admission that he had not kept up with the probe as he should have.

Hurd's self-confessed failures resulted in him being promoted to the Chairman post at HP, while all of the other major players in the spy scandal were excised from the company.

Hardy would prefer to focus on Hurd's mental strengths and never explores the executive's time before Congress.

After taking over from Fiorina, "Hurd . . . memorized hundreds of metrics--prices, costs, margins, discounts, growth rates, revenue, profits - and invoked them in follow-up sessions, subtly showing off and letting them all know: I was listening, and I will hold you to what you told me," Hardy writes, as he enters Hurd's mind.

Congress should have been so lucky as to meet that Hurd rather than the Reaganesque impostor.

Hardy has mastered the HP puff piece, having worked on the art for eight years.

Back in 1999, he closed a profile on Fiorina with the following scene.

On a sunny day she poses against one mockup for the company's annual report. "Some people will have to leave," she says. "We need people who like the pace, can deal at a high level, can handle greater ambiguity and risk." Carly Fiorina glares at the sun, then turns to the lenses trained upon her:

"I am not afraid."

Seriously, HP's PR staff can't beat that.

On the subject of Hurd, Hardy has crafted a gentle tale.

He's left out any meat that would have added balance to the feature. For example, Hurd is using the same pension-ripping, layoff tactics at HP that he employed at NCR. Such cost-cutting moves will prove effective in the short-term only and can cripple morale. What will the CEO do in a year's time when he faces Fiorina's old challenge of finding a business besides proprietary ink wells that can drive HP forward?

Answering that question will require more skill than listening to voicemails while you march around the office reciting sales figures to staffers.

Lucky for Hurd, he's found just the man to chronicle HP's ambiguous charge. ®

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