After my previous post on Mark Hurd's removal from Hewlett-Packard, I was a little surprised by the “push back” from current and former HP staff. It’s true that, as mentioned, he turned around the stock price and took HP’s annual turnover past the mighty IBM. It’s also true that he made the company functional in ways that seem to have been beyond his self-obsessed predecessor, Carly Fiorina. But while Hurd appeared to have the good ship HP rowing in the right direction, below deck, the galley slaves were less than overjoyed. Joe Nocera’s column in The New York Times says:
The consensus in Silicon Valley is that Mr Hurd was despised at HP, not just by the rank and file, but even by HP’s top executives…. “He was a cost-cutter who indulged himself,” was one description I heard. His combined compensation for just his last two years was more than $72 million — a number that absolutely outraged employees since their jobs were the ones being cut.
Rob Enderle, a well-known technology consultant, noted that in recent internal surveys, nearly two-thirds of HP employees said they would leave if they got an offer from another company — a staggering number. “He didn’t have the support of his people,” Mr Enderle said. Although he was good at “holding executives’ feet to the fire, he seemed to be the only one benefiting from HP’s success,” Mr Enderle continued. “He alienated himself from the people who might have protected him.”
According to Glassdoor.com, Hurd’s staff approval rating of 34% was even worse than Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer (52%) and Yahoo’s Carol Bartz (56%), not just miles behind Steve Jobs’s 98%. It may be an anonymous and unscientific survey, but still, it’s not a good sign.
Old timers particularly resented the slashing of HP’s research and development spending, which Charles House, a former HP engineer now at Stanford University, says went from 9% of revenues to closer to 2%. Nocera quotes House saying: “He was wrecking our image, personally demeaning us, and chopping our future.”
That makes him sound like just the sort of boss no-nonsense Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison would like, and I can’t pretend to be surprised by the revelation that the two are friends. In another New York Times article, Ashlee Vance wrote that: “Mr Ellison and Mr Hurd, meanwhile, have been close personal friends. Both are avid tennis players, and Mr Hurd often plays at Mr Ellison’s house in Silicon Valley.”
Ellison, of course, sent “an impassioned email” to The New York Times to proclaim that:
“The HP board just made the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago. That decision nearly destroyed Apple and would have if Steve hadn’t come back and saved them.”
Steve Jobs is another of Ellison’s mates, so it’s not a rash assumption to think Jobs knows Hurd as well. This raises the interesting question of what Hurd might do next.
Hurd will have pocketed more than $100 million from his time at HP, so he need never work again. However, having run the world’s biggest IT company, he might well want to step into another position of power, and I expect he’ll get a few offers. He might be a good fit for Oracle, which is a competitive take-no-prisoners kind of company, and now has products -- Oracle, Sun hardware, Open Solaris etc -- that compete against HP’s $53 billion enterprise business. The job might also suit someone who, while at HP, kept a very low profile. However, it would clearly be a step down, rather than a step up.
Hurd taking over at Apple is another possibility, though much less likely, in my opinion. Although Steve Jobs is a health risk, the existing Apple management survived perfectly well during the six months he was off having a liver transplant last year. Whether Jobs views his current team (Tim Cook etc) as his long-term replacement is another matter. He’s certainly not going to tell us.