With the Hewlett-Packard board and former CEO Mark Hurd’s crisis management teams muddying the waters with charges and counter-charges, only a few things about Hurd — and the controversy surrounding him — are clear.
First, we know that Hurd was a tough, even brutal CEO who more than earned the nickname Hurt ’em Hurd. He made Hewlett-Packard number one in computer and copier sales even as his board feared him and his employees hated him. He may have overpaid his female PR greeter, but he also drove up the stock price by 500 percent while cutting a bloated work force by 40 percent. For all this, he walked away with about $40 million.
The only question now is how long it will be before he accepts the really big job among the many awaiting him, because in today’s sick economy, the headhunters are calling. First on the line was Gary Burnass, the legendary leader of Korn Flakes International.
They go back decades. Both served on the Business Roundtable. They’ve each earned enough money on the golf course, at least in terms of deal making, to make Tiger nod in respect.
“Gary, great to hear from,” Hurd said the day after he was canned. “What took you so long?”
“I was flying back from China, commercial of all things. My G-5 had mechanical problems or I would have called earlier.”
“Yeah, life’s a bitch, and so are boards. Between us, I’m still in shock. I thought the spineless bastards would have backed me up after I rescued them five years ago. But time to move on.”
That’s the right attitude, Mark. I’ve got a fistful of offers, but I think the best thing is for you to go to Italy, or Africa, or anywhere. Unwind for a few months, clear your head.”
“Actually, Gary, I’m on my yacht just off Cannes right now. But let’s talk for a moment.
“First, no more public companies. Either private equity or a new industry like one of those new Chinese car companies.
“I want someplace where I can build a world-class company. I met enough of those Far East billionaires who don’t give a damn how I run their joint, how many bodies I trash or how I spend the dough as long as I bring them market share and 25 percent bottom line.
“Just get me a $30 mil base, the right kind of bonus, no one looking over my shoulder and a G-5. I don’t want to appear greedy.”
“Mark, I’ve got four guys who’d give you all that tomorrow, or three months from now. Just don’t do anything rash.
“Trust me, soon they’ll want you more than ever, because in a world of minnows you’re one of the few great white sharks.
“Besides, H-P is going to beat the crap out of you over the next week or two in the press with a lot of trumped-up BS. I’ll have my crisis management guru call you tomorrow to counter them. You’ll like his work — he’ll hit back harder than Marvin Hagler in his prime.”
“Thanks Gary. I appreciate your counsel. I’ll talk to you in a month.”
With that, he turned to his official greeter: “Jodie, tell the captain to pull into Cannes for the evening. Arrange a party for tonight. I want you to introduce me to all the people we’ve been doing business with over here for the last five years.
“And if you see anyone from the H-P board, shoot first and ask questions later.”
Bill Regardie was the founder and publisher of Regardie’s Magazine.