A year ago Patricia Dunn was the chair of Hewlett-Packard Co., a technology powerhouse staging a comeback under new CEO Mark Hurd. She was a wealthy, respected banker, and due to become wealthier-still. She was among the 100 most powerful businesswomen in the world, #17 with a bullet.
Does anyone deserve such a Shakespearean fall? No.
But do I have a whole lot of sympathy for Patricia Dunn? No. That’s part of the tragedy.
She brought all but the cancer on herself. Her paranoia drove the investigation. Rather than confronting the alleged leakers in the boardroom, or selectively leaking false stories to each director in turn (in order to find out which one got into the press), she essentially treated her own board as a group of enemy combatants. She had their identifies stolen, their phones tapped.
James Surewiecki at The New Yorker has a column out this week defending the idea of stamping out board leaks. He says that, given a choice between tight security and a board of yes-men, that tight security is preferable.
This is a false choice.
The two men who got the boot at H-P were long-serving directors, highly
respected, with immense wisdom to offer which was apparently being
ignored. That’s why they leaked. And that risk of leaking should be
part of the process in a truly transparent business environment.
The answer is to actually listen to dissident board members and to deal
with their concerns. They are on the board because they know. Ignoring
their wisdom is pure management malpractice.
That’s what Patricia Dunn was practicing. That’s what Carly Fiorina was practicing (as Surowiecki knows).
Between them, these two women set the cause of women in management back
a decade or more. They proved that top female executives can be just as
stupid, pig-headed, manipulative and evil as their male counterparts.
They reduced the upside for all their sisters. It’s unfortunate that
women are judged in this way. After all, Dennis Kozlowski and Ken
Skilling didn’t set the cause of men back any. But that is the reality.
Given what has happened at H-P, the most amazing point is not that Dunn
is suffering so much. It’s that Fiorina got off so lightly. CEOs like
to claim they earn the big money by taking the big risks. But if all
you’re risking is the time stamp on your golden parachute, that’s a