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Bring back the HP Way, Mr. Hurd

As every new bizarre detail emerges, it becomes clearer that the CEO has only one choice: Come clean.

Charles Cooper
Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
3 min read
An open letter to Mark Hurd:

I'm sure you're not lacking in advice from the horde of lawyers and public relations experts employed by Hewlett-Packard. Unfortunately, you've received awfully lousy counsel up to this point.

So on the eve of your much-anticipated Friday afternoon press conference, how about considering an unsolicited outside opinion? I'll make it simple: Bring back the HP Way.

Is that a bit too vague? OK, start by imagining what Bill Hewlett and David Packard might have done in a similar situation. I suppose that does require a leap of faith because HP's co-founders never would have authorized a covert surveillance operation to spy on company employees or journalists.

Full disclosure would be a good start at repairing some of the damage to HP. So would a very hard look at the people who surround you.

These were old-school guys who believed what they said. Packard even left behind a valuable primer that should be must-reading for any CEO. In his chronology of the company's history, "The HP Way," Packard stressed how important he and Hewlett felt it was to treat individuals with consideration and respect. It's safe to assume he would have said "pretexting" fails that test.

You can't turn back the clock, but this is the time to clean up the stables. Your PR minions have given up trying to sanitize this affair because the "Patricia-gate" mess stinks to high heaven. Every bizarre new disclosure is the equivalent of another slap in the face to the tens of thousands of people who built HP into a world-class company. Even Wall Street, which until now has tried hard to ignore the unfolding scandal at HP, is starting to worry about where all this is heading. In recent days, investors have sold off HP shares because of the gathering clouds over the company.

And so, welcome to the first major crisis in your professional career. How are you going to handle yourself? In recent days, new disclosures have raised questions about your role in the story. I don't suppose you're going to ascend the podium Friday and announce you're firing yourself. But full disclosure would be a good start at repairing some of the damage to HP. So would a very hard look at the people who surround you.

• Kevin Hunsaker, the company's senior ethics officer, needs a refresher course on the topic. He is supposed to kick up a fuss when folks stray from the straight and narrow. But when he learned of plans to launch an investigation, Hunsaker was more concerned with protecting attorney-client privilege than with issues of right and wrong.

• Ann Baskins, HP general counsel, is Hunsaker's boss. A memorandum says Baskins instructed him to oversee the investigation so as to protect the attorney-client privilege. Baskins understood this could result in eventual litigation or a government probe. She's a smart lawyer, but did her narrowly legalistic approach serve HP's best interests?

• Patricia Dunn is scheduled to leave her job as chairman in January. This was a face-saving sop to a person who has served on HP's board since 1998. But she ordered an investigation into a news leak to CNET News.com in January that brought HP to this point. Did she know the company would contract hole-in-the-wall characters to steal personal phone records and conduct physical surveillance? Dunn, who just this week was inducted into a Northern California business organization's Hall of Fame, has been a hands-on executive throughout her entire career. She wasn't watching the ball this time.

Frankly, you're in quite the spot. Your best hope is to convince the world that HP is serious about living up to the high standards set by its founders. So far, you've been very much the shrinking violet, preferring to issue one vanilla public statement.

If you're up to the challenge, you'll need to do a lot better--and fast.