Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Is HP chairwoman Dunn done for? The board meets to decide...

Posted by Richard Koman - September 10, 2006

By Richard Koman for SiliconValleyWatcher

UPDATE: HP said U.S. federal prosecuters have asked it for information about its investigation into leaked boardroom discussions.

Saturday, Tom Perkins called on Patricia Dunn to resign as HP's chairman, saying in a statement:

"I acted not from any ill will toward Ms. Dunn but to protect the best interests of HP, I think the past months and days have shown that those interests are best served if Ms. Dunn would resign from the board."

And he's not the only one. The business press is now lining up on Perkins' side.

Fortune: :

Even if there might be some argument that Dunn could reasonably have thought the company was acting legally in obtaining the records, she behaved improperly in not insisting that she know for sure of their origin.

HP is a leading vendor of personal computers to consumers in the United States, and the second largest producer of all PCs worldwide. It cannot afford to suffer even for one more day the perception that it does not put the highest priority on protecting personal information. That is the perception one cannot avoid having at this moment.

There's plenty more like that.

The board met Sunday and is meeting today, but no surprise, there have been no leaks so far. Dunn suggested last week that no resignation is in the cards, telling the press that she'll resign if asked but doesn't expect to be so asked. The sands are shifting, though, as the opinion pieces indicate. And the Times reports: "A person with knowledge of some portions of yesterday’s board meeting said that there was a strong chance that Ms. Dunn — who recused herself from some of yesterday’s discussions — would have to step down."

Dunn is taking a page from President Bush's playbook, saying that "pretexting is wrong" and that she was "appalled" to learn that the independent contractor used pretexting. It smacks of Bush's disavowal of the Swift Boat ads even as he benefited from them or Claude Rains' being "shocked, shocked!" to discover gambling at Rick's Cafe.

The version doesn't comport with Perkins' view of the affair. He wrote an email on June 20 to Larry Sonsini, the Wall Street Journal revealed, saying:

"Larry, the investigation was a Pattie Dunn program, 100 percent conceived of and managed by her, and unknown to the board, except perhaps in the most vague and imprecise terms, with the possible exception of Mark [Hurd], who she may have briefed."

And Dunn had an apology for the reporters who were spied on too: ""The information that has recently come to light about the involvement of reporters and the way they're involved in this investigation is highly regrettable, and I want to apologize individually on behalf of this board," she told News.com. "Nobody had that in mind when this investigation was undertaken."

The complete list of journalists now includes News.com's Dawn Kawamoto, Tom Krazit and Stephen Shankland, The Wall Street Journal's Pui-Wing Tam and George Anders, The New York Times' John Markoff, and BusinessWeek's Peter Burrows, Ben Elgin, and Roger Crockett. While it's disquieting to have thugs snooping through your phone records, that's gotta be some sort of badge of honor for hacks.

By all accounts Dunn previously had a reputation for high ethics. What happened? Perhaps it's just a sign of the fear-mongering, leak-plugging, law-bending times set by Washington. "This is a sign of the times,'' outplacement consultant John Challenger told the Chronicle's Tom Abate. "Think of how Bush has been handling the leaks in his administration."

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