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10/14/2010
08:00 AM
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: An Open Letter To HP Chairman Ray Lane

While lashing Mark Hurd publicly probably felt good, it achieved little or nothing for HP's customers and employees, and you need to focus on the future.

Dear Ray: Forgive my meddling at this critical time for your company, but since we're both Pittsburgh guys of approximately the same vintage, I thought I might share a couple of quick thoughts about HP and what it's been through the past few months and, more important, where the company is headed.

Your recent decision to air some very bitter and very public accusations at former HP CEO Mark Hurd came as a bit of a shock, and they reminded me of a hard lesson I was taught many years ago when my pigheadedness was in full bloom and wisdom for me was a scarce commodity. I thought I was doing a pretty good job, coming up with some new ideas and firing up the troops and vanquishing enemies both real and imagined, but my boss didn't quite see it that way.

He said that while it's great to be a warrior, it's terribly counterproductive to engage in a battle and win the battle, only to then feel compelled to go back across the silent battlefield and stab all your enemies again. And he told me that if I didn't learn how to focus on what matters—tomorrow's battles, not yesterday's—then my career would be taking some turns that I would surely not enjoy.

So when you said in your letter to the New York Times that Hurd had "violated the trust of the board by repeatedly lying to them in the course of an investigation into his conduct" and that Hurd had "violated numerous elements of HP's Standards of Business Conduct" and "demonstrated a serious lack of integrity and judgment," it must have felt pretty good to blow off that steam, particularly coming as it did on the heels of some blistering media attacks on the new HP CEO, Leo Apotheker, who joined the company as you did less than a month ago. (Read all about it at Global CIO: In Oracle Trial, HP Might Pay Higher Price Than SAP.)

While it's a bit hard to know precisely what your rationale was for hitting "send" after you'd written that harsh letter, the common interpretation is that you were tired of seeing HP's new CEO criticized, you were tired of seeing the HP board derided and castigated in the media, you were tired of seeing that great $130-billion company kicked around like some two-bit loser, and you were probably really tired of seeing the serrated-knife comments wielded by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison at both the HP board and at Apotheker. (And by the way, I've got a lot more thoughts on all of this in the "Recommended Reading" list at the end of this column.)

In theory, fair enough—there comes a time when each of us says enough is enough, and it's time for a response. But that's where the problem comes in, Ray, because while you apparently felt compelled to respond, your counterpunches were all aimed at the wrong target.

For you and the rest of the board and for all of HP, Mark Hurd is yesterday's enemy. Mark Hurd is yesterday's problem. Mark Hurd is yesterday's distraction. When he was ousted by HP, the headline over my column conveyed my sense of what HP needed to do with regard to its former CEO: Global CIO: Burying Mark Hurd: HP And Its Future.

By deciding to use one of your first high-profile engagements as HP chairman to demonize someone who left your company 10 weeks ago, you dredged up, once more, the muck HP had been trying to wash away in naming a new CEO and emphatically telling investors that the company will leverage its great past into an even better future.

You revitalized all the cutting barbs made by Ellison and analysts and Jack Welch, and even those made by the New York Times columnist who "didn't know" that his own fiancee's law firm represents Oracle and Ellison in next month's trial with SAP, in which Apotheker will very reluctantly play a high-profile role.

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But you've always been a man of action, Ray, from your days at Oracle through your recent role as a leading venture capitalist and now as HP's chairman—so it's not a surprise you've come out swinging. But it's time to stop aiming your punches at Mark Hurd and his final days at HP because all of that is irrelevant to HP's future. Maybe they're not irrelevant to you personally, but that's exactly what they are with regard to the company's strategy, its customers, its employees, its shareholders, and its future prospects in what is promising to become a savagely competitive industry.

If I might suggest, Ray, here are a few things to which you should be devoting your considerable skills, talents, insights, and energy (and please note that Mark Hurd is not on this list):

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