Take a lesson from Hurd: It pays to break the rules when you're the boss

Hurd scored $34 million for his bad behavior at HP; now he's nabbed a high-profile gig at Oracle. What's the message here?

Great writers have a knack for capturing the nuances of speech and culture. In "The Right Stuff," Tom Wolfe introduces us to (sorry if the language offends) "the unscrewable pooch," a job that's so cushy you simply can't, well, screw it up.

Which brings me to Mark Hurd, the one-time wunderkind who fell from grace for canoodling in the corner office of Hewlett-Packard. OK, he may not have actually consumated the canoodle, but he apparently covered up his dalliance with a sexy contractor by fudging his expense reports. He also paid the lady a lot of money for services that weren't necessarily crucial to HP's well-being. What's more, it appears his advances weren't altogether welcome, since Jodie Fisher did claim sexual harassment.

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For that, he was forced to resign. No matter what Larry Ellison thinks, the action by HP's board was altogether justified. We no longer put sexual miscreants in the stocks, but you'd think that someone who messed up so badly would at the very least disappear from public view for a while.

But not Mark Hurd. He walked away from HP with a $34 million exit package and was just named co-president of Oracle, a gig that pays $11 million a year plus options. That'll teach him to break the rules. (HP is suing to block the hire.)

Firing workers is richly rewarded

While it may not be fashionable to engage in what the folks at Fox News like to call class warfare, I'm going to say it: No one who works at a less exalted level would get away with that behavior -- not no one, not no how.

How many people have been fired for taking a few bucks from the register or filing a padded expense report? How many journalists have been pilloried lately for lifting a passage or two from the Web without proper attribution? Quite a few, and I make no excuses for them. Rules are rules. Break 'em and you're out of here.

But l'affaire Hurd exemplifies a culture that glorifies the richest and most powerful, and places them in a rarefied zone light-years removed from the rest of us.

Consider this: A new study shows that CEOs who fired the most workers during the economic recession have also taken home the highest pay. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the CEOs of the 50 corporations responsible for the worst layoffs were paid an average of $12 million -- 42 percent more than the average for chief executives at Standard & Poor's 500 companies.

And yes, Mark Hurd is one of them. "I was amazed to see that these stories all ignored the fact that this is a guy who has laid off more than 30,000 workers at Hewlett-Packard over the last few years, while earning more than $20 million a year. Now, to me, that is the real scandal at Hewlett-Packard," Sarah Anderson, lead author of the study, said during an interview on Democracy Now.

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