It was an interesting meet with a decade-old HP guy on a Thursday night. Together with Karen, a people motivator and initiator of a book on women, I learnt about Hewlett Packard’s previous CEO, Mark Hurd’s legal shave that happened 3 months ago. The meet, though meant to facilitate our link up with HP’s working women, could have flown higher should I have known about the drama beforehand and spent the 2 hours better exchanging views on the subject with the jet-worn, time-tight top-level executive instead.
Hoping to catch up on what was written of the scandal the next day, I thought to search on straitstimes.com for HP. No results were found. When I typed ‘Mark Hurd’ in the search field, articles with the verb ‘mark’ and ones with sport star Mark Hughes were listed. As much as I was relieved that my brain works perfectly fine catching headlines as they are, I was appalled that the papers did not give heed to the scandal. There wasn’t a report on the progress of the drama at all. Giving it the benefit of doubt that the news had been somehow covered but it was purely due to the dysfunction of the local site search engine powered by Nano that gave me no relevant searches, then I will have to complain, in Singaporean style, that the story wasn’t pumped up enough to catch my attention on TV or online. There might have been reasons for the deliberate disregard or play down. But had the story gotten the Chief editor’s nod for print space, readers would have learnt a few useful lessons.
It all started in August this year, when Mark Hurd had to resign on grounds of falsifying expense claims. All eyes were on him when he was accused of sexual harassment of a contract marketing person. After more investigation was done, he was found innocent of the sexual harassment but guilty of signing off sums which, according to some sources, were spent keeping a personal non-sexual relationship with the female worker, who happens to have a porn past. According to the HP veteran we were with, it was a mere $7,000 when you talk about a guy who earns a wage with far more digits to air. Still, it was a fault not dismissible. It was the intention that mattered.
Getting the readers’ attention as a cover story on the front page of the papers in August would have quickly gathered support for the recent proclamation of doing good as the next benchmark of corporate performance ISO. They would have discovered that new legislation at home is a reflection of real occurrences outside. Go to todayonline.com and search for the article on “Doing good is the new global edge” published on the 2nd Nov on corporate social responsibility to find out more. It would have been clear to many that undignified spending on company’s expense (no matter how widespread it is practised among peers and how little it entails) will only send you tumbling down once you reach the top. Non-integrity is bad press and when corporate lawyers get up to speed, many workplaces will be given the opportunity to be left spic and span. I remember working friends in Singapore who paid for my taxis telling me not to bother paying them as they will put them under their companies’ expenses. In proportion to their wage, if size does matters, they would have been in greater trouble than Hurd if they were being found out.
In the hot climate of listing companies on our exchange and educating people to invest wisely, another lesson that could have been picked up if the story was followed is how confidence in a leader can set bulls and bears on the run. After the announcement of Mark Hurd’s resignation, shares fell 9.3 percent. Ever since he took leadership in April 2005, HP’s stock-market value nearly doubled. Both reflections of the public’s confidence in Mark Hurd.
Watching how HP selects the new CEO from its list of candidates would also have been good food for thought to prepare people for the polls. A few pages featuring the candidates’ personalities, job descriptions and predictions of the future of HP could have helped readers get analytical. Although they will be surprised that at the end of the 2 month period, it is not a man from the pre-determined list, but one named Leo Apotheker, former SAP, who had landed the new AG CEO role instead.
Furthermore, we would have had a chance to understand how corporate culture can become a talking point when people start questioning the “pharmacist’s” (Apotheker is German for pharmacist) suitability for the post after he assumed the title. Coming from a software background, some naturally pessimistic people say HP must be silliest to put him in charge of the world’s biggest hardware company. Hopeful people say it is a sign that software will be taking a larger share of the company in years to come. HP is known to put people first from its branding to its customers. Oracle has a very hard feel in contrast given that much of its operations are driven at a business to business level. In the age of combinations, when IT companies are working towards integration systems, both ends of the spectrum must come to meet at some point. More is said with HP is poised to acquire SAP, making Oracle ‘run better’. (SAP’s tagline) Not to forget software companies like Microsoft and Acer are also developing hardware- mobile devices.
Mark Hurd departed with severance pay from HP and was put in office at Oracle a short 2 weeks after his departure. HP then chose to take a well-worn leader from SAP rather than raise a HP person up the ranks from within. Drawing back to homeground activity, we can seek solace in the knowledge that the lack of talent is apparent on the global stage too. New good people being elusive can be quite a common problem. That leaves us to question how well companies are talent grooming with their programmes. IT giants switching leaders at times when fresh blood could have been infused for a chance of better performance may be a sign that proven management and leadership skills matter more to non-risk-taking big corporations. Highly defined skill sets which are hoped to be imparted to the people through the skills upgrading programme may put people back into the workforce, but it may not lead them to decision-making roles. As much as we are led to believe that skills is the primary concern , I wondered also if we have lost the ability to reason and listen so much so that we would rather shut out mature voices and deem their skills outdated than to work out a sensible form of communication and harness the experience from within them? Is ousting over the hill personnel more plausible than putting in place requirements of flexibility and willingness to adapt for their return to the workforce?
Mark Hurd’s move to Oracle sets up the domino effect on IT giants SAP and HP. Leaders of IT giants sit down together and draw out partnership details from time to time. Whenever it happens, the business becomes driven on a personal level. Indirect shifting around of persons makes noise in the news and re-activates trading markets, both good things for the companies involved. Familiar faces still tend to keep to their strata on top.
When I asked the man of South Asian descent how long the drama got on for, he replied saying it was for a month. So I commented, “At least there was something to talk about for a twelfth of a year at the water coolers.” He laughed. He did mention the worker as a second grade actress once in the conversation. On that note, some of us can take a little breather knowing that at the very least, we have a common joke to connect with the world with. Being filled in on an outrage that spanned a quarter of a year has its direct view-able benefits.