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Investors have enjoyed a great run with the thundering Hurd. Since March 2005, when Mark Hurd was appointed chief executive, shares in Hewlett-Packard have soared 62 per cent while those of rival Dell have slumped by 45 per cent. Even during HP boardroom turmoil because of a scandal over its decision to spy on phone records, the shares had remained almost unnaturally calm.
Until now. Investors are belatedly waking up to probably the biggest threat: that Mr Hurd might get caught in the storm. Hewlett-Packard shares fell 5 per cent on Thursday morning. The fear is that Mr Hurd, as chief executive, was aware of elements of the investigation that were of dubious legality, or did nothing about them when he was made aware. That could raise questions over his judgment, or potentially drag him into more serious investigations by external agencies into the scandal.
HP plans to discuss the affair at a press conference on Friday. But, especially given that various journalists’ records were spied on by HP, the story looks unlikely to die any time soon.
That leaves HP’s fudged response to the crisis, which gives Mr Hurd the chairmanship from January, looking increasingly misjudged. Investors want him to run the business. HP’s board should have tried to ring-fence him as far as possible from the boardroom shenanigans and brought in a heavy-hitting, external chairman – untainted by the problems – to restore order.
Instead, they now face the threat of him taking over as chairman with the scandal still rumbling – and soaking up a lot of his time. Even worse, there is the outside possibility that the ongoing investigations recast him as the blundering Hurd and threaten his ability to continue running the company effectively. Shareholders are right to be nervous.