The mystery isn’t why Hewlett-Packard is likely to part ways with its chief executive, Léo Apotheker, after just a year in the job. It’s why he was hired in the first place.
The answer, say many involved in the process, lies squarely with the troubled Hewlett board. “It has got to be the worst board in the history of business,” Tom Perkins, a former H.P. director and a Silicon Valley legend, told me.
Interviews with several current and former directors and people close to them involved in the search that resulted in the hiring of Mr. Apotheker reveal a board that, while composed of many accomplished individuals, as a group was rife with animosities, suspicion, distrust, personal ambitions and jockeying for power that rendered it nearly dysfunctional.
Among their revelations: when the search committee of four directors narrowed the candidates to three finalists, no one else on the board was willing to interview them. And when the committee finally chose Mr. Apotheker and again suggested that other directors meet him, no one did. Remarkably, when the 12-member board voted to name Mr. Apotheker as the successor to the recently ousted chief executive, Mark Hurd, most board members had never met Mr. Apotheker.
“I admit it was highly unusual,” one board member who hadn’t met Mr. Apotheker told me. “But we were just too exhausted from all the infighting.” During Mr. Apotheker’s brief tenure, once-proud H.P. has become a laughingstock in Silicon Valley. Its results have weakened, its stock has plummeted and his strategy shifts have puzzled people inside and outside the company. Hewlett did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The immediate cause of dissension was the board’s decision in August 2010 to demand the resignation of Mr. Hurd, who had himself assumed the top position in the midst of board leaks and a phone pretexting scandal surrounding efforts to determine the source of the leaks that had laid bare irreconcilable differences among directors. He had replaced Carly Fiorina, who was also summarily ousted by the board.
Though not without detractors, Mr. Hurd pulled off one of the great rescue missions in American corporate history, refocusing the strife-ridden company and leading it to five years of revenue gains and a stock that soared 130 percent. Then came an incendiary letter from the activist lawyer Gloria Allred, charging that Mr. Hurd had sexually harassed a former soft-core pornography actress named Jodie Fisher, whom he had hired as a consultant for H.P. The accusations set off another fierce board battle.