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We can now begin picking our jaws off the ground.
Hewlett-Packard's (NYSE: HPQ ) gambit of breaking the scandalous resignation of CEO Mark Hurd shortly after Friday's market close worked. The stock may be getting hammered this morning, but there's really not a lot of news left to dissect on the matter.
Let me go against the grain, then, to suggest that this isn't a career killer for Hurd.
Time will probably reveal the extent of Hurd's relationship with the disgruntled contractor and clear up the allegations of expense fudging. However, if this is all there is -- and it's hard to imagine this getting even more damaging for Hurd since the company is forking over a $12.2 million golden parachute and allowing his latest options grant to vest -- I think we'll see Hurd at the helm of another turnaround situation sooner rather than later.
After all, if Alec Baldwin gets to berate his daughter and bounce back with a pair of Emmy wins -- and Tiger Woods can keep many of his sponsors intact after multiple affairs -- this isn't the last we've heard of Hurd.
Allow me to take this one contrarian step further. After turning around NCR (NYSE: NCR ) and then HP, I would have no problem buying into whatever company decides to take a chance on the now disgraced helmsman.
I can't be alone.
You'd be nuts not to follow me.
Profit from the uncertainty
I'm not asking you to check your moral compass at the door. After all, look at your own portfolio. Unless all of your CEOs are being fitted for chastity belts, we'll never know what truly goes on -- 24/7 -- in their social lives.
In the end, we buy into results.
Character matters, naturally. Enron's shenanigans wiped shareholders out. However, there's a lot of integrity wiggle room between Dennis Kozlowski 's gutting of Tyco (NYSE: TYC ) and Martha Stewart bouncing back from her insider trading conviction. She did her time and quickly grabbed the reins at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (NYSE: MSO ) .
Hurd will be forgiven, in time, and it may be the best thing for both HP and the lucky company that nabs his acumen on the cheap rebound.
Easier times for HP
According to The New York Times, Hurd was negotiating a new contract that would have paid him $100 million over the next three years. The scandal broke, and now HP is going to find a capable leader who will earn far less.
Hurd did all of the heavy lifting in his five years at HP. Earnings, return on equity, and HP's stock more than doubled in his tenure.
Cynics will argue that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) has been the better performer in that time, but that only means that Hurd is the second-best chieftain for a computing company with a four-letter last name. Sorry, Michael Dell.
IBM (NYSE: IBM ) -- perhaps a better fit than Dell as HP's closest rival after Hurd's EDS acquisition -- has treated shareholders to market-thumping gains in that time, but the stock hasn't doubled.
Running HP today won't be as hard as it was five years ago, so this may actually be a convenient time to pass the baton. The margin-widening initiatives are in place. There may be some challenges in integrating Palm into the HP bloodstream, but at least the company can count on lower capital expenditures at the top.
The Hurd mentality
Maybe I'm just cold.
I had a twisted thought when I first heard about the expense padding. If Hurd was taking out the contractor on fancy meals and then lying about her presence by claiming he dined alone or with others who may be more sensitive while on the corporate tab, doesn't this mean that margins at HP may be even a smidgeon better than reported? If so, Hurd is also a smidgeon better than advertised. The cost was probably immaterial, I know, but the thought was there.
I don't know if Hurd's wife will leave him over these salty allegations, but I know that I won't. In a year or two, there will probably be some fallen tech darling on the ropes that comes calling. Hurd will come, willing to work for a low salary that is rich in stock options incentives that will appreciate only if he is successful. He'll be kept on a short social leash, but attention will quickly turn to his hands-on steering.
I'll be there.
And just admit it: As appalled as you may be right now, you'll be right there, too.