Techpreneurship, with Jeff Amerine
Some months back as part of the “Strategy Lab 101” Techpreneurship blog, I questioned (now former CEO of HP) Mark Hurd’s strategy of having HP pursue Palm as an acquisition.
I frankly thought, and still think, little good comes from buying an also-ran laggard in the mobility space. It appeared to be a pretty lame attempt to “catch a falling knife.” Hurd appeared in my view to be foolishly optimistic that the Palm ”falling knife” (WebOS) could be turned into a mobility buzzsaw to use against Apple, RIM and Google. The jury is out on that, but I know how I’d bet…
In that blog, even though I questioned his thinking, I indicated the respect I had for Mark Hurd as HP’s CEO. Hurd had significantly grown HP both organically and through acquisition. The stock had performed exceedingly well. Heck, HP had even surpassed IBM in terms of annual revenues. Critics had questioned Hurd’s lack of investment in R&D (a sign of short-term focus, maybe?), but who could argue with the recent results?
Who knew at that time that Hurd, like so many other high visibility leaders, lacked the fundamental integrity to follow the rules he demanded of all other HP employees? Without doing a nauseating recap of the entire episode, Hurd apparently concealed an inappropriate relationship with a marketing “contractor” (this is a kind characterization) by submitting fraudulent expense reports to cover their escapades. Enter champion of the “downtrodden victims” Gloria Allred, then sexual-harassment claims, then settlement, then Hurd’s forced resignation from HP for falsifying expense reports….
Look, while I personally value character, honor, morality and integrity, I honestly don’t care what senior managers (I won’t dignify Hurd by calling him a leader) do in their personal time, so long as they are not on my team. That’s between them, their family and a higher authority. That said, one really has to wonder why a guy making a bazillion dollars per year felt the shareholders should cover his indiscretions. Is that not just the classic example of arrogance and hubris?
So, this week the story gets interesting again. Less than 45 days after being disgraced and dismissed, another inhabitant of the moral high ground, Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, offers Hurd a job as Co-President… Are you ready to hurl yet? By the way, did you see Devil’s Advocate in the 90′s? Maybe these guys actually deserve each other…
Well, the Wall Street analysts think this move is genius, amazing, fantastic, strategic, etc, etc. Oracle stock goes up! Hoooray, right? Wrong. Dead wrong.
Frankly, I think the move is tragic. This move by Ellison says everything anyone would ever need to know about the culture and values at Oracle in my view. Don’t get me wrong, Hurd should have a chance at redemption, but shouldn’t he have to spend some time in purgatory first?
Is there no penalty box for the high and mighty? Apparently not, at least not in Oracle’s universe in any case. Now, to add further intrigue, HP is suing Hurd over taking the position with Oracle. Hurd and HP apparently never established a “no-compete agreement,” but the suit suggests he has damaging HP trade secrets covered under a confidentiality agreement. Gee, why would HP be worried about Hurd using any of those to Oracle’s benefit? Oh, that’s right, he just proved that he would lie, cheat and essentially steal over relatively meager amounts in an expense report.
Ugh! Pass the Tums… Chances are the case will be dismissed for lack of merit, but my goodness, what an incredible example of a lack of character and integrity on the part of Hurd and Ellison. Who can really blame HP for taking this action even if it lacks legal merit?
What is the real message here for techpreneurs? All I would suggest is that character and integrity are irreplaceable, priceless and fragile. Don’t trade these attributes for any amount of power, money or other vice of the moment.
Win or lose, those true believers that follow you on your quest toward techpreneurial greatness will seldom be disappointed if you never sacrifice your character and integrity. Better yet, you should always be able to sleep at night, and you actually might not be disgusted by the face looking back at you in the mirror…
Alright gang, tell me where I’m going wrong on this one.
(Jeff Amerine is an IA advisor, entrepreneurship educator, and officer with the University of Arkansas Technology Licensing Office. Each Thursday, his Techpreneurship blog will appear in INOV8. Drop him a line in comments.)