I’ve been following the HP board of directors melt down for a while and have formed opinions about the key characters in this drama/tragedy/comedy. There was big article about it in last Sunday’s San Jose Mercury News. I also watched the 60 Minutes interview with Patricia Dunn which helped me clarify my thoughts.
In case you haven’t been following this story. Patricia Dunn was chairman of the HP board of directors. Jay Keyworth a member of the board was leaking secret information from board meetings to the press.Tom Perkins was also on the board and was good friend of Keyworth’s. Dunn commissioned an investigation to find the leaker and unmasked Keyworth. Perkins quit and stormed off the board. He supposedly quit because he found out that the investigation used shady techniques to get the phone records of board members. Keyworth was voted off the board and Dunn has since been forced to resign from the board. She has been indicted for her roll in the investigation. Here are my caricatures of Dunn, Keyworth, Perkins, and the lawyers Baskins, Kiernan and Sonsini. My opinions are just that my opinions, so take them with a grain of salt.
Patricia Dunn is an extraordinarily smart and hard working woman who got to her position as chairman of the board of HP through team work, being smart and hard work. She came from a very modest background and has overcome enormous obstacles to get where she is. I’ve worked with women like her and I have nothing but admiration for her and what she accomplished. Given that she is responsible for some very unethical perhaps even illegal behavior it may be surprising but I admire what I believe is her honesty and work ethic. She was torpedoed and sunk as a result of scheming and dishonesty led especially by Perkins. She took the bait and the bad guys won. Of course the buck stops with her but she was certainly misserved by her lawyers who should take a lot of the blame for this mess. I think I identify with her. If I worked harder and was more driven I could imagine myself in her shoes. Hopefully I wouldn’t have approved the investigation but she certainly was in a no win situation.
When you’ve got a team like HP’s board where the team members don’t trust each other you have a dysfunctional team. The only way to fix such a team is to get rid of the rotten apples and if you can’t prove who the rotten apples are it is pretty much hopeless. Dunn would have failed is she didn’t identify the leaker and what she did to find him has also destroyed her.
Tom Perkins is the rich venture capitalist who personifies all that is wrong with business. He thinks the rules don’t apply to him. He seems to think he is smarter than everyone else and instead of being forthright and open he enjoyed masterminding the fall of Dunn. Dunn said "He wanted me off the board. This was to get me off the board. I don’t know if he ever thought through the consequences that would go beyond my getting off the board," I’ve also worked with people like him. I have an almost visceral reaction to him based on my experiences. Unfortunately being political and underhanded is often a game that works. My impression is that Perkins enjoys the game and he won this game at the expense of HP and its employees and stockholders. Ugh!
Jay Keyworth is another rich old guy who thought the rules didn’t apply to him. I’m sure he would encourage punishing leakers but he thought he knew better than others what the press should know.
Finally the lawyers. I am with Rich Karlgaard, Publisher of Forbes, that the HP lawyers should be fired. They can take a lot of the blame for all this. Dunn depended on them and they didn’t do their job.
Finally I am reminded of something I learned in an ethics class at Sun, If you aren’t sure about whether something is ethical think about whether it would be a problem if it appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Your answer to that question is a great smell test for whether something is OK to do or not. It is too bad Dunn as the captain of the ship didn’t apply this test before she OKed the leak investigation.