Adding Up the Problems at HP

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Analyses of the departure of HP CEO Mark Hurd has been cryptic and under-reported (see, e.g., the NYT coverage here and here).  The HP board found that reality TV personality Jodie Fisher’s claims of sexual harassment were unsubstantiated, but that Hurd violated the company’s “standards of business conduct.”  Huh? Tech Industry columnist Thomas Wailgum puts it this way:

Most of us are aware of the booth babes phenomenon at high-tech trade shows and continuing debate about their presence. But should we be shocked to learn that, from 2007 to 2009, HP’s marketing department paid Jodie Fisher “up to $5,000 per event to greet people and make introductions among executives attending HP events that she helped organize,” according to one report? Another article claimed up to $10,000 in pay per event.

Just what kind of events required this type of hostess? Customer and CEO dinners only? Does HP still employ other female event greeters—and why are they needed at all? There’s a fine line between “event organizer” and “a female hostess paid to look pretty and laugh at all the executives’ dumb jokes.” Aren’t there plenty of smart, personable managers and execs already working at HP who could have done meet-and-greet work at events? Or just not enough of the types who had appeared on reality TV? 

Wailgum’s full column is available here.  I’m not crazy about the “booth babe” reference, but it certainly makes the point.

The claim that the HP board sought Hurd’s resignation because of “a break in trust caused by his falsifying expense reports to conceal the relationship” (source: here) doesn’t add up.  She attended corporate events and had dinners with Hurd, presumably not in secret. Was it really news to the board that Fisher was being paid? Or is it that the sexual harassment claim (judged by the board to be “baseless“) wasn’t so baseless after all?  Or is just embarrassing to the corporation to have it revealed that pretty women are paid to make male executives happy and comfortable at these events?  

-Bridget Crawford

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