Hypocrisy at Hewlett-Packard

Editor's note: The following account is fictional. The author doesn't know anyone by the name of Joe Hack, nor does she know anyone else who works in the Compliance Department at HP.

My old friend Joe Hack, a member of the Compliance Department at Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) , stopped over to visit while in town for the House Committee hearings investigating the pretexting brouhaha. I thought this might be a good time to ask him a few questions.

He did not agree.

"You press are all alike," he said. "You hear of a leak and blow it out of proportion."

I thought about that a moment and replied, "Isn't that what happened at HP? A leak?"

"You mean we should have just looked the other way when a board member was leaking private information?" he shot back. "What should we have done -- just gone back to shooting spitballs at each other during board meetings?"

"Well, I guess you have a point. A board has to have trust to work effectively."

"That's right!" he exclaimed. "And that's just what we at HP believe. Haven't you read our Standards of Business Conduct?"

I had. It read, in part:

HP conducts its business with uncompromising integrity. Every member of the HP community -- directors, executives, managers, employees, and business partners -- has a duty to comply with all applicable law and adhere to the highest standards of business ethics.

"So why didn't Chairman Dunn just meet with each board member and read them all the riot act about confidentiality?" I demanded.

"Tried that," Joe said. "Didn't work."

"What about hiring an outside firm to conduct an investigation -- one that complied with the law and was subject to outside oversight?"

"Don't you think we know what we're doing?" he demanded. "Our company prides itself on a long history of ethics and integrity."

"Well, you did have a few boardroom mishaps before," I reminded him. "Remember the -- "

"Oh, stop!" Joe interrupted. "Just because we hired Carly Fiorina as the first outside CEO, and she didn't have the relevant experience we needed, that doesn't mean we goofed. After all, we gave her a pretty hefty severance package when she left. Doesn't that prove she was worth it?"

"Not really," I replied. "Actually, the company's stock price declined during that period. Anyway, I was really referring to the boardroom battles with Walter Hewlett when he voted in favor of the merger with Compaq and then led the dissent against it."

"Oh, stop bothering me with stories from the past! The fact is that our stock price hasn't really suffered from this little matter, and Mark Hurd will restore the company's reputation."

"But he already admitted that he consented to sending false information to a journalist," I reminded Joe.

"Oh, you're too sensitive."

"Well, what about the fact that he claims he didn't even know about a report that discussed pretexting plans?"

"He missed that meeting."

"Shouldn't he have been there?" I prodded further. "Why didn't he know more about the matter?"

"As Mark said, 'It's a complicated situation.'"

"I guess so," I said. "And it's even more complicated now that he's chairman as well as president and CEO. That sure blurs the lines of an independent board, and some folks may find that disturbing."

"WHO? Give me names!"

"Well," I said, "HP has a great record on corporate responsibility and is a favorite of many SRI investors."

"That's right! Lots of people appreciate us! This year we placed second in Business Ethics Magazine's Best Corporate Citizen rankings, we're among the top companies for minorities, and we've won many sustainability accolades."

"Aren't you concerned that SRI indices and funds may drop you? Corporate governance is a large component of SRI, and HP sure doesn't look too squeaky clean in this area."

"Nah," Joe said. "Not worried. I haven't seen too many stories on that angle out there. Anyway, if I do, I'll just let them know that we were even named among the most trusted companies with respect to privacy issues. And we were just chosen as one of the best places for a mom to work. That'll stop the blather. Everyone likes moms!"

He was right. At that point, I didn't have much more to say, except that I was getting hungry.

"Don't worry! I already called for pizza delivery," Joe said.

"How did you know whom to call?" I asked.

"Easy. I had a look at your phone records."

For related Foolishness:

Fool contributor S.J. Caplan does not own shares of the company. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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