On Saturday New Zealand time, apparently under board pressure, HP chief executive Mark Hurd resigned.
The boss of the $100 billion company said he had filed false expense claims, and was following the same code of ethics he would apply to any employee.
Mr Hurd’s expense offences were coloured by the fact they were committed in pursuit of one Jodie Fisher, a B-list actress hired by his company as a contractor.
His advances apparently became unwelcome after a certain point, but according to The New York Times, the HP board was never presented with any evidence of sexual misconduct.
In the immediate wake of the announcement, $US9 billion or about 10% was wiped from HP’s market cap.
Mr Hurd (who pocketed a $US40 million payout, including $US12.1 million cash) was widely seen as the man who turned HP’s fortunes around, overseeing a successful diversification into services (via the EDS acquisition) and, at the commodity end of the business, worldwide PC sales improved to eclipse those of former number one Dell. Through the recession, profits remained fat.
Today comes the embarrassing revelation, via the Times, that as Mr Hurd’s career hung in the balance, public relations company APCO managed to convince HP directors that the company would suffer months of humiliation if it did not act on Ms Fisher’s allegations of sexual harassment.
Now, HP is enduring a storm of bad publicity – but mostly around taking the wrong advice, and over-reacting.
In an email to the Times, Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison wrote: “What the expense fraud claims do reveal is an HP board desperately grasping at straws in trying to publicly explain the unexplainable; how a false sexual harassment claim and some petty expense report errors led to the loss of one of Silicon Valley’s best and most respected leaders.”
And as for Ms Fisher, star of such Z-list efforts as Blood Dolls and Sheer Obsession?
She's guaranteed to become a tabloid fixture.