Todd is an ex-CEO himself and would be ideal if the Palm acquisition is to help drive HPs future valuation. Shane has the deepest knowledge of all the business units and knows where the existing bodies are buried. In addition, the interim CEO, Cathie Lesjak, is well respected and has a long history at the company, unblemished by controversy. Hurd leaves HP in very strong shape.
However, Hurd should have been one of the most secure CEOs in the valley, likely third behind Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison in terms of his ability to defend his job against almost anything that came up. Yet he appeared to have lost his job as a result of some relatively small bad judgment calls, at least compared to what other CEOs did to get fired.
His experience sends a warning to other CEOs: Watch your butts, in a reality show world the rules have changed. Lets explore that.
This tends to create an environment where the person in power is testing the limits of what they can do on the company dime and on company time. Overseeing these executives is their respective boards, but many CEOs have learned that if they take over the Chairmanship that oversight can be dramatically reduced.
Historically CEOs didnt have that much of a public profile. And while their antics were often the subject of water-cooler talks throughout their companies, it was rare that they became the subject of public discussion. In pre-internet age, even extreme instances didnt seem to get any real coverage, like the CEO who used to chase Pizza delivery boys in his restored Sherman tank, or how the coup between a CEOs mistress and next in line was foiled because the analog telephone conversation describing it was accidentally rebroadcast over the firms PA system. Up until Hurds issues most of us were worried they were simply getting meaner. Historically containment was relatively easy and if someone tried to tell the story the firm would deny it and the publication wouldnt publish without some type of credible corroboration. Yes, it was kind of like Mad Men. And yes, it has been going on for some time.
If it is an affair that became public, even in a no-fault state, the additional cost can be the marriage and the emotional stability of the children. Having been the child of an executive that had issues with fidelity myself I can attest to the fact that the result can be extremely damaging to the children, who may have everything from substance abuse, trust, or anger management issues as a result. And the spouses of these have a tendency to get rather vindictive and physical. Recall that Tiger Woods wife beat the living stuffing out of him with a golf club before he ran into a tree.
The divorce fight, custody fight, fight for the house, fight for the pets, fight for their life battles that can result are epic in both scale and pain. If I were to have an affair I know my wife would just shoot me, and given her aim is really bad, Id have a lot of collateral damage on my conscience.
So regardless of whether it looked like they wouldnt get caught, many dont seem to think through the fact that the cost, no matter how remote, is likely not worth the related benefits. And with the Internet and reality TV the risks just went up astronomically.
The lesson and the warning for those that seem to have both power and the lack of natural constraint with respect to using it (which is probably about 90% of us) is this: In a world of reality TV, where citizen journalists have cameras in their phones, and celebrity attorneys are numerous, stuff that previously could have been contained can make it to the Web before any notification is received.
This means that no one calls the company for a denial before the story goes live. Few do fact checks anymore. Even if they use an unnamed resource, its a valid source now, when previously it wasnt. And there are apparently a lot of people who will go on the record on a subject if they dont have to share their identity. The truly sad thing about Hurds situation is that his wife, apparently a very private person, now is being sought for comment about an affair that actually may not have happened. Mark Hurd is likely learning that it is really hard to prove you didnt do something that you didnt do if, in fact, he didnt do it. My heart goes out to his children who are likely having, or will have, uncomfortable school conversations and his direct staff, particularly his assistant, all of which are being hunted for comments and may not have jobs for much longer.
Finally, and this may be directly related to Hurd and brings to mind some advice my grandmother gave me, avoid even the appearance of evil. Proving you didnt sleep with an attractive colleague youve been hanging out with may be impossible and may have the same impact as if you did.
Ive known a lot of executives who frequent strip clubs and partake of extra marital activities paid for by their companies. These folks apparently believe theyll never be caught. Mark Hurd should be a reminder that in this Internet world that this is no longer the case and the fallout from getting caught may be more than they, their spouses, their children and their support staff may be willing to pay.
Finally, if you are in one of these groups, particularly the support staff, you might want to recognize that this behavior could cost you your job. You might consider either helping correct it or moving someplace where youll be safe when it blows up. Either way, just pretending it has nothing to do with you is no longer the safest path. Live like you are on stage in this Internet World -- because you are.