Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is taking his Hewlett-Packard counterpart's forced resignation seriously. So seriously that Ellison blasted off an e-mail to The New York Times defending his friend and calling HP to the carpet for the "cowardly" way it handled the situation.
Ellison's words carry plenty of weight in Silicon Valley. The software tycoon is the third-richest man in America. He has spoken, and the tech industry is listening, if not agreeing, with his rant about how HP treated its former Chairman, CEO and President Mark Hurd.
"The HP board just made the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago," Ellison wrote to the Times. "That decision nearly destroyed Apple and would have if Steve hadn't come back and saved them."
Hurd resigned suddenly in the wake of an investigation into his relationship with a former actress named Jodie Fisher, who accused Hurd of sexual harassment. The investigation cleared Hurd of any wrongdoing with Fischer, but Hurd resigned, saying there were instances in which he "did not live up to the standards and principles of trust, respect and integrity" that he espoused at HP.
"In losing Mark Hurd, the HP board failed to act in the best interests of HP's employees, shareholders, customers and partners," Ellison wrote, noting that Hurd did a brilliant job during his five-year tenure to return HP to its "former greatness" after a "long list of failed CEOs."
Ellison's defense of his friend may be admirable on some level, but Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, said it's prolonging the drama and pointing to possible fear on Ellison's part.
"You can understand why Larry is suddenly very concerned," Enderle said. "Hurd is one of the most powerful men in the valley and he got shot by a hand-picked board. Who's to say the same thing couldn't happen to Larry or Steve Jobs? Jumping up and down saying this was wrong is probably as much Larry talking to his own board as anything."
Poor Corporate Governance?
Among Ellison's gripes is the fact that HP's board took the sexual-harassment allegations public with no proof. "Publishing known false sexual-harassment claims is not good corporate governance; it's cowardly corporate governance," Ellison asserted. He also said HP has lost a "nearly irreplaceable CEO." HP's shares have lost $10 billion since the resignation was announced.
Ellison wound down his rant with a defense of Hurd over allegations that he used HP's tab to pay inappropriate expenses associated with Fisher's public appearances on behalf of the hardware maker.
"Mark Hurd, like most other CEOs, does not fill out his own expense reports, so even if errors were made, Mark didn't make them," Ellison said. "What the expense fraud claims do reveal is an HP board desperately grasping at straws in trying to publicly explain the unexplainable; how a false sexual-harassment claim and some petty expense report errors led to the loss of one of Silicon Valley's best and most respected leaders."