I try to keep my blog posts topical (technology and management implications) and by choice rarely go into the realms of politics, religion, or other intensely controversial areas.
Mark Hurd’s recent trials and tribulations, though, warrant a few comments…
HP has sued Mr. Hurd, and is trying to block his move to Oracle. I can’t comment on the confidentiality agreement, or any implied or written non-compete. Nonetheless, some may find the move repugnant, while others feel it is “just business”.
The switch has certainly put an exclamation point on “contentious” – the word oft used to characterize his departure from HP. And this latest turn of events really draws a line like the one between a world based on George Bailey’s Bedford Falls and the Mr. Potter’s alternate universe that George envisioned. Which world are we?
I’ve had similar experiences in my career – which included switching employers that were in competition. Let me explain that situation.
As an employee of a large health insurer (not 1st tier senior manager – I reported directly to a divisional CIO) I jumped ship to an equally large healthcare system. Part of that was a change in geography (sun belt migration) and also succumbing to what I felt was handwriting on the wall – my prior employer was considering getting more directly involved in care delivery, and I felt I had an opportunity to fast track my professional development in that arena.
Unlike Hurd, I had no agreements, and my departure/hire (in the early 90s) was a blip on the competitive radar; but what went through my mind must have gone through Hurd’s. The knowledge I had about strategic intent for my prior employer’s healthcare business, our close-to-the vest way that we managed claims (which I was intimately aware of), or strictly confidential actions on provider management and oversight – that was all knowledge I used at the new employer. At the time, they were not in direct competition in that geographic market – so the actual competitive effect was not an issue.
But even more importantly were the other things that went through my mind: thoughts about my co-workers and my commitment to them. After 15 years in the first company, jumping ship, in some sense, was a betrayal to our shared sense of purpose. I wasn’t just hacking a competitive chip away from my old employer, I was betraying my co-workers. OK OK, probably too dramatic for the level of the organization I was in at the time – but now magnify that 100 times for someone in Hurd’s position.
With a reported 35M in severance, Hurd didn’t have to do it. Possibly the move comes from a sense of retribution and pay-back? Stories from HP (which may have been planted by the board) seem to have centered on Hurd’s purported disregard for individuals, and insensitivity for co-workers. This move might support that view.
“Greater Taylorism” , a termed coined by Walter Kiechel III in the book “The Lords of Strategy”, reduces running a company to analytics, sharpened pencils, and spreadsheets. But companies are much more than that – they are people with shared purpose, and communities with conscience and commitment. Competition, and business, can get ugly – but let’s call the ugliness when we see it, and decide if that’s where we want to take our culture, or ourselves.
Will Hurd and Ellison get to work together? Probably. After all, the argument can be made that this was a case of friends helping friends. Hurd could have responded in much more subtle ways – at a startup, or on the board of a competitor (without direct day to day involvement). In my situation, years later (as a CIO) I had the opportunity to jump to the competition – but didn’t.
But what does this say about Hurd’s (and Ellison’s) character? Volumes. Not just the negatives, but also the value of friendship, or the importance of competitiveness.
More importantly, it has management and culture implications, both from a career management perspective, and about how you manage your people. That’s what’s really interesting….