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 user 2005-02-20 at 9:28:00 am Views: 43
  • #10403

    Where the Buck Stops at

    Fiorina was sent packing, but that
    won’t cure what ails HP. For starters, the board needs to fix itself

    Carly Fiorina
    remains as much a magnet for headlines now that she is gone, as she was when she
    was running Hewlett-Packard . But just as much attention should be paid to the
    role of HP’s board in the tumultuous events of recent days.

    Yes, HP’s
    board deserves credit for taking action to oust one of the world’s most famous,
    charismatic CEOs — something too many boards lack the courage to do. But a
    closer examination shows that the board waited too long, and it came up lacking
    on many major duties of a board: to hire, fire, and monitor the execution of
    management’s strategy. All too often, HP’s directors succumbed to Fiorina’s
    powerful brand of salesmanship, allowing her to pursue plans and tactics that
    wound up hurting HP’s businesses and its standing with investors, employees, and

    As the
    board begins a search for a new CEO, it should also take steps to reform itself
    by bringing in new blood as well as finding ways to recapture lost credibility.

    FUZZY DIRECTION.  How did the board fall
    short? Let’s start with Fiorina’s hiring. It’s often forgotten that by the time
    Fiorina was named as the first outside CEO of HP, she was competing in a field
    of one. Other candidates, such as former Oracle  President Ray Lane and former
    Sun Microsystems  President Edward Zander, had taken themselves out of the
    running. While HP publicly said it had considered HP Executive Vice-President
    Ann Livermore, internally she was not seriously considered.

    many factors are involved, but the board deserves some blame. While Zander and
    Lane each did multiple interviews for the job, both backed away, in part, due to
    concerns that the board wasn’t mapping out clear marching orders. One example:
    Just how much of the famous “HP Way” corporate culture should the new CEO

    Lane and Zander also were put off by the board’s request that
    they take a 340-question psychological exam. In a 2002 interview, Lane said,
    “That worried me. What kind of board am I going to be working for? I thought it
    was a silly thing for a CEO to be asked to do.”

      Then there’s oversight. In many ways, the board did
    Fiorina no favors by giving her carte blanche to remake the company. Certainly,
    an incoming CEO should be accorded appropriate freedom to do his or her job. But
    this case was unique. Fiorina had never been a CEO, nor had she ever been in the
    computer or printer business.

    Most of all, she had no big-time
    operational experience. Her reputation at Lucent  was as a master of sales and
    marketing. “I think they could have done more due diligence on her,” says former
    HP executive Bob Frankenberg, who oversaw HP’s rise as a PC power in the early
    1990s. “While she was eloquent and a great communicator, she’d never had to run
    operations, or develop and bring a product to market. But the board was
    incredibly enthusiastic about her.”

    Despite the lack of operational
    background, the board let Fiorina vault into a full-scale transformation of what
    may well be tech’s most complex company. She tore down what had been 80-plus
    fiercely independent business units and tried to meld them into a far more
    centralized entity, while at the same time revamping everything from
    compensation practices to how HP spent its marketing budget.

    SEALING LIPS.  Too often, these changes simply replaced one
    form of inefficiency with another, and Fiorina’s insistence on setting
    aggressive growth targets in the midst of all this change led many of HP’s best
    executives to lose faith. Meanwhile, as top performers such as former
    laser-printer chief Carolyn Ticknor and inkjet-printer chief Antonio Perez left,
    Fiorina’s HP failed to attract any new big-name talent.

    To many
    insiders, the board seemed out of touch. While it was clear inside HP that all
    of her reforms had yet to jell, the board handed her the mantle of chairperson
    as well as CEO in September, 2000 — just over a year after joining the company.

    By 2001, the problems at HP were becoming clearer, setting the stage for
    Fiorina’s biggest move: the $19 billion acquisition of Compaq Computer. But
    investors panned the deal, driving the stock down 17% in hours. Indeed, in the
    run-up to the deal announcement, only company scion and board member Walter
    Hewlett had professed big concerns about acquiring Compaq. Rather than leave him
    free to speak his mind, the board pressured him to back a clause requiring
    unanimous board support for the deal.

    “IT WAS
      Certainly, Hewlett should have spoken up sooner. But that
    doesn’t excuse the board’s backing of Fiorina’s efforts to stifle Hewlett after
    he launched what became the largest proxy fight in corporate history. At a time
    when whistle-blowers at Tyco , Enron, and elsewhere were being hailed for
    questioning boardroom groupthink, HP’s directors approved a public-relations
    campaign by management to marginalize Hewlett as little more than a nostalgic,
    cello-playing dilettante. Sure, that would have been warranted had it been true.
    But as hindsight shows, it wasn’t. Hewlett got a bum rap.

    Then the board
    gave its tacit consent to more worrisome tactics. To ease investors’ concern
    about Fiorina’s lack of operational chops, officials repeatedly argued that
    Compaq CEO Michael Capellas would stay at the company to handle the day-to-day
    duties. The board knew it almost certainly wasn’t true because Capellas had been
    promised $14.4 million if he left within one year of the close of the deal.

    “The No. 1 duty of a board is to communicate honestly,” says Yale
    corporate-governance expert Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, president of the Chief Executive
    Leadership Institute. “By commission and omission, it was deceitful.” Capellas
    did jump ship to become CEO of MCI (MCIP ). Says Charles Elson, director of the Charles L.
    Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware: “If a
    CEO makes statements that are untrue, directors have an obligation to ensure
    that it is corrected.”

      And what about the booting of Fiorina? Even in this instance, the
    board acted slowly. Since the departure of Capellas, directors were pressuring
    Fiorina to appoint a chief operating officer. Rather than pressure, it should
    have acted.

    In fact, a simple solution was available in late 2003.
    That’s when long-time HP exec Webb McKinney successfully finished the task of
    integrating the Compaq and HP operations, and approached Fiorina for his next
    job. Multiple insiders say McKinney asked for the COO job, but Fiorina refused.
    The board should have forced her hand.

    Outside of operational
    shortcomings, Fiorina also was let go due to board concern about HP’s lack of
    bench strength. A stream of well-regarded executives from Mary McDowell,
    currently executive vice-president at Nokia, to Juergen Rottler, now an
    executive vice-president at Oracle, bolted over the past 18 months.

    AVAILABLE TALENT.  The board, however, did
    little to hold Fiorina accountable until her Feb. 9 ouster. And when the company
    missed its third-quarter numbers last year, Fiorina promptly fired three
    high-ranking sales executives. “How could they let her go on this
    finger-pointing campaign?” wonders Sonnenfeld, who says that IBM’s  board
    rebuked then-CEO John Akers for similar actions in the early 1990s. The point:
    HP should have held Fiorina accountable, and insisted she take the heat rather
    than further deplete the executive talent.

    Fast-forward to the present.
    As the HP board begins the search for a new CEO, it should also reform itself.
    Job No. 1: Bring in some new blood — although not a full transfusion. Some
    people close to HP, for example, are calling for the head of Richard Hackborn. A
    brilliant strategist who started HP’s hugely successful printer business, he was
    instrumental in choosing Fiorina, and was a key champion of the controversial
    Compaq merger.

    “Given his support for Fiorina, many of us felt he should
    have resigned as well — for the same reason: she didn’t succeed,” says Carl
    Snyder, HP’s former head of procurement before he retired in the mid-1990s.

    WHO’S NEXT?  That might be excessive. Hackborn
    is one of the few heavy hitters on the board when it comes to running a major
    tech company. Renaming interim CEO Robert Wayman to the board was also a good
    move. Despite the turbulence of recent years, Wayman built up huge credibility
    during his long career as HP’s CFO.

    And the directors inherited from
    Compaq clearly know how to build shareholder value. Consider that Compaq’s
    investors are far better off than they would have been without the HP merger.

    Less of an argument can be made for others, such as Robert Knowling Jr.
    A former telecom executive, he was pushed out of Covad Communication Group
    shortly after Fiorina named him to the board. At the time, his allegiance seemed
    inclined far too much to Fiorina, rather than to HP’s investors. As he told
    BusinessWeek at the time, “I didn’t join HP. I joined Carly. If she
    left tomorrow, I’d resign tomorrow.”

      Mostly, HP should look to bring in some new faces — experts
    who can bring ideas for how HP can reestablish itself as an
    information-technology industry leader of the future. For too long, the HP board
    has gone along for the ride. Before now-deceased founders Bill Hewlett and David
    Packard backed away from the scene in the 1980s, the board understandably
    rubber-stamped most of their moves. Then, the board became too passive with a
    very different kind of leader.

    Now, having mustered the courage to ax
    Fiorina, the board needs to be just as courageous when it looks at its own
    makeup and its role going forward.