You can’t just fire a CEO who’s screwing your company over

This is fascinating, and some really excellent reporting. HP wanted to kick out their CEO Mark V. Hurd. He was despised by the employees and the board, and by all accounts he was setting the company up for failure down the road by slashing research and development.

Fair enough. Can his ass!

But! But...

2009 revenue was $115 billion, up from $80 billion when he took over. Four years ago, H.P. even leapt past mighty I.B.M. in revenue, making it the country’s biggest technology company. Its average annual 18 percent profit increases were remarkable given the company’s mammoth size. And the stock price more than doubled on Mr. Hurd’s watch.

Ah, so he's scorching the earth at HP, but Wall Street loves the guy. So, now you can't fire him. Of course! You have to make up a sex scandal to fire a CEO that's making your company money right now.

H.P. says its board should be applauded for not letting Mr. Hurd off the hook. But this is just after-the-fact spin. In fact, the directors should be called out for acting like the cowards they are. Mr. Hurd’s supposed peccadilloes were a smoke screen for the real reason they got rid of an executive they didn’t trust and employees didn’t like.

The stand-up thing would have been to fire Mr. Hurd on the altogether legitimate grounds that the directors didn’t have faith in his leadership. But of course Wall Street would have had a conniption if the board had taken such a step. So instead, it ginned up a tabloid-ready scandal that only serves to bring shame, once again, on the H.P. board.


On the other hand, putting up dazzling short-term numbers that have the effect of enriching himself while robbing H.P.’s future — isn’t that what a C.E.O. should be fired for? Firing Mr. Hurd for that reason, however, would have taken courage, something that has always been in short supply on the H.P. board.

Lots of other companies would probably do exactly the same thing, though. And that's what's wrong with corporate America. Well, one thing that's wrong.

Am I doing it wrong?

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