THE GAP

by Scott

A few more details have trickled out about the Hurd transgressions that have shaken loose some odd revisions in analysis that, well maybe these were “fire-able offenses.”

Some of the details that have muddied the waters:

WSJ: Hurd Deal Inflamed Board

Oh, the BOD was miffed?

Which led SiliconBeat to believe that maybe there was malfeasance that was sufficient grounds for termination:

SilconBeat: Why Joe Nocera is wrong about why HP ditched Mark Hurd

All of this analysis misses the real gap between: 1) the details of the Hurd transgressions and 2) The Expected reaction of the Board to those transgressions.

This revisionist analysis misunderstands The Expectation on the BOD reaction in the minds of Wall Street and external industry participants. The Expectation was NOT that the BOD would make this decision on Hurd and his transgressions in line with the norms on treatment of sexual harassment that are broadly prevalent in American business today… and perhaps this should spark a “National Dialog” on where that line is between personal conduct and professional duties.

No, this was NOT The Expectation.

The Expectation was:

Mark Hurd is a super-star, and super-stars are (shamefully) indulged.

All of the analysis that is measuring the distance between details of the Hurd transgressions and “modern business norms on sexual harassment” is really missing the point[11.And frankly, this would put you quite at home on the passive faction of the HP BOD during this manufactured crisis.]. The gap is much, much, much larger.

If Mark Hurd was such a super-star (like we all believed) where is the shameful indulgence!?!

In America today, super-stars are (shamefully) indulged

Hopefully you have been fortunate enough in your career to never have been exposed to this crappy reality. It’s really shabby.

How it happens is something like this. You are sitting at your desk one random day, thinking about your plans and the glories you will achieve in the market, the new vistas you will open, the rich veins you will tap, and how solid your team is, especially Mark, top performer, a real stalwart, he’s really racking up the wins. At this point somebody comes into your office and says:

“Hey, we kinda have a problem.”

Your immediate reaction is: Ha! he’s probably going to tell me about our competitors in Indonesia, don’t worry we’re ready to hit back.

“No, it’s about Mark… well, it seems that…”

…and he then proceeds on a story of progressively revealed detail that rips your mind from the loftiest heights to the basest depths of detail as you are sucked down this new rabbit hole that you suspect is going to become very familiar[22.For the purpose of this example assume we are talking about a victim-less act of moral turpitude.]. You were not cognizant of even the initial launching point of this tale and so even the innocuous details, as they are revealed, seem indicting. “Well, how’d he have her phone number?” “Was this at the hotel when he was in New York or when he was in London?” “When did Tom know of this?” …and on and on.

The whole time, you are looking at these really stupid decisions your super-star was making. The feeling of stupidity is amplified a 100-fold when you try to tie these decisions back to “why would he do that, when there is all this more important stuff over here?” Why would he even be focusing on those things that led him to make those stupid decisions when all of that stuff pails in importance to what is going on with the business?

And what next? Your super-star did something stupid (says he’ll never do it again) and now what do you do? What is your decision?

I won’t try to compile a list of all the reasons that lead this decision, all too frequently in America, to be let’s indulge him: “Ok, last time buddy!”

I do think one of the reasons is that we live in a winner-take-all society[33.Robert Frank’s seminal Winner Take All Society, Penguin, 1996 [link]] but we’ve so long forgotten that it wasn’t always like this, that that fact is just part of the scenery now.

I am sure another part has to do with the function of deterrents. Deterrents only function before the act you are seeking to stop is committed. Afterwards, like in the case of our super-star, you are sitting at a point where to sanction/fire would only damage the super-star, damage the company, and for what? Cosmic justice? A setting right of things based on some higher principle, an act of sanctioning that likely nobody will hear about, well, not sufficiently heard about to discipline the world against further submissions to human frailty.

It gets real messy. And somehow the bone-headedness of it can be a mitigating factor, along the lines that these decisions can’t possibly speak to motive or behavioral patterns because nobody could be so stupid to have this as their plan[44.Ahh, you’d be surprised…].

Sometimes you just can’t stomach it and he’s got to go, sometimes you can hold your nose and be decidedly pissed off about the whole thing. It’s a lot like the loyal wife that finds out the husband cheated on a business trip. Do you throw away what is otherwise a perfectly good marriage, toss away 15-years of history, disrupt the kids, blow a hole through your finances, and for what?

Like I said, it gets real messy.

The Expectation is super-stars are indulged.

The Expectation was: Mark Hurd is such a super-star that it would require, to be clichéd,  Schedule 2 controlled substances and the unfortunate and untimely demise of a troubled young lady.[55.And even then, maybe only if Wilford Brimley wasn’t around that day to burry the bodies out in the desert.]

This is THE GAP.

This gap will not be closed by further explanations that the HP Board is uncommonly principled. It won’t be closed by reports of newly revealed inflammations, ranklings or irkings. And it won’t even be closed with an affirmative answer to the prurient question of: did he have sexual relations with “that woman?”

No, the Board of HP did not think that Mark Hurd was the super-star we all thought he was.

So, what’s the deal HP? What’s the real deal?

And what’s the go-forward plan?