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Hurd at Oracle: another ethical issue

Posted: 13 Sep 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Hurd? resignation? CEO? Ellison? HP?

I don't know all the facts of Mark Hurd's situation, but it doesn't take a degree in philosophy to see there are plenty of ethical issues here and enough blame to go around.

Hurd did a great job as chief executive driving Hewlett-Packard to focus on execution and delivering solid financial results. But on August 6, HP announced Hurd and the HP board decided he should resign following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment that "determined there was no violation of HP's sexual harassment policy, but did find violations of HP's Standards of Business Conduct."

Ironically HP's board wound up with more blame than Hurd for that fact when they sacked him, a move some felt was a punishment too harsh for the crime. I personally agreed with the board's move.

My personal sense is a CEO needs to be held to a higher than usual standard of ethics. That person represents the company and its reputation and in today's economy is typically compensated in millions of dollars to walk that line.

However small his infractions, Hurd made some dumb moves and needed to pay the piper before he cashed in on a golden parachute. Oracle's chief executive Larry Ellison disagreed, thought HP's board was too harsh and made his views publicanother misstep in my book.

What's worse, Ellison was brazen enough to hire Hurd as Oracle's president this week. To me, that's a clear indication Ellison both recognized Hurd's talent and said in a very public way Hurd's little ethical infractions were nothing compared to the opportunity to hire a top executive from an archrival.

That's the coldest form of doing business in my book. Interesting the hire was announced on Labor Day, perhaps calculated to minimize press attention.

HP filed suit against Oracle this week, claiming Hurd's contract prevented him from working for a rival, pretty standard terms for any senior exec. Indeed, many engineers work under the same terms.

Ellison shot back a comment that HP was just being vindictive. I don't think so.

HP and Oracle used to be partners, non-competing hardware and software companies. But these are the days when computer companies are driving to be full service suppliers.

With its acquisition of Sun Microsystems, Oracle now is a head-to-head competitor with HP in selling computer servers. The two must still find a way to collaborate on how they support Oracle's popular database software on HP's popular servers.

Indeed reports suggest the whole Hurd mess may now rain problems down on both company's users. Ethical issues are like this, in my experience. One small misstep if unchecked can snowball into a big fat mess.

I don't have any easy prescription for any of the players in this little drama. But I do think when it's all over there will be a great case study on business ethics.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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