The nonsense about Leo Apotheker's 'listening tour'

Chief executive of HP remains AWOL from Palo Alto office during Oracle-SAP trial

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Maybe it's me, but I've always been under the assumption that when someone becomes chief executive of a major corporation and wants to meet and hear from employees, it's usually best to start where most of the employees actually are. You know, like corporate headquarters.

Yet Hewlett-Packard would have the world believe that Leo Apotheker, who took the reins at HP a week ago Monday, is spending his first days on the job embarked upon some "listening tour" to get feedback from HP's remote-office rank and file. Next stop, the Antilles islands!

(Also see: Is Leo Apotheker on the lam?)

HP wants us to think it's just a bizarre coincidence that the trial in a U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif. -- to determine the amount of damages German business software giant SAP owes Oracle for admittedly stealing the database vendor's software copyrights -- began on the very same day (Nov. 1) that everyone expected Apotheker to begin work at HP's global headquarters in Palo Alto.

Oracle is seeking a damage award of more than $4 billion, while SAP is willing to give Larry Ellison's company any spare change it can find in its parking lot, plus a gift certificate for two at one of the many fine beer gardens in Walldorf, Germany (though that expires on Dec. 31).

Apotheker, of course, is the former CEO of SAP. Oracle has been trying to serve him with a subpoena to force him to testify at the trial about what he knew regarding the copyright theft by SAP subsidiary TomorrowNow, which Apotheker eventually ordered shut down.

Subpoena? We haven't even heard about any subpoena! Leo's just traveling around Europe and the east coast of the U.S. to pick the brains of outpost employees. He wants to make sure HP workers in remote locales around the world are happy with their vending machine selections and toilet paper quality. There's plenty of time for getting around to meeting workers at HP headquarters!

HP has complained that the subpoena effort is "an effort to harass" Apotheker and "interfere with his duties and responsibilities as HP's CEO." But doesn't staying on the run instead of showing up at his new office interfere even more with his duties and responsibilities? No? OK, well if Apotheker can work so effectively remotely, maybe HP should rescind the $2.9 million it gave him for relocation expenses when they hired him a few weeks ago.

And -- this has to be said -- what is he so afraid of?

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