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Former HP boss Patricia Dunn dies at 58

Legacy sullied by 'pretexting' scandal

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Obituary Patricia Dunn, former chairman of HP, died on Sunday at the age of 58 after a long fight with cancer.

Dunn was appointed to the top job at HP in 2005 after joining the board in 1998. She lasted barely a year before being forced out and charged with hiring a team of private investigators to tap the phones of journalists and board members in a bid to stop corporate information leaking: the so-called "pretexting" scandal.

Some of the methods used by the investigators hired by HP were found to be illegal, even though Dunn insisted that she had been told that no laws were being broken. The case led to investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission, FBI, House of Representatives, and the attorney general of California. Two HP board membersresigned in protest at the company’s actions.

HP ended up paying $14.5m to the state of California in a settlement of the charges, as well as paying off certain journalists who were targeted and kicking Dunn out of her job. Dunn was replaced by Mark Hurd, who many commentators thought was lucky to escape firing himself, but who successfully convinced investigators that he was not at fault.

The "company later acknowledged she did not authorize, direct or conduct the investigation,'' her husband William Jahnke told the Wall Street Journal. "She was asked to resign from the board because her continued presence had become a distraction.''

The result was to haunt Dunn’s otherwise exemplary record. She dropped out of university at an early age to care for a parent before finishing her degree and joining Wells Fargo as a temporary secretary. She quickly rose to become head of Barclays Global Investors, which had bought her division, and at the time of her appointment to the board was seen as one of the most financially capable female business leaders in the US.

Dunn received treatment in the last decade for melanoma and breast cancer, and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2004, which spread to her liver. She is survived by her husband.

"Pattie Dunn worked tirelessly for the good of HP. We are saddened by the news of her passing, and our thoughts go out to her family on their loss," HP said in a widely-reported statement. ®

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