January 20, 2011, 12:07 PM — First, a prediction: All of this -- the external probe and the shareholder lawsuit -- will come to nothing. Perhaps some kind of settlement. But there'll be no real winners, except for the lawyers.
In the meantime, the big ball of acrimony created by the sudden exit from Hewlett-Packard last summer of former chief executive Mark Hurd will continue to entertain the tech industry and provide fodder for blogs like this. OK, so maybe there already are winners.
(Also see: HP orders probe into Hurd's departure)
As IDG News Services reports (see link above), HP is commissioning an investigation into the "circumstances surrounding the departure of Mark Hurd and the board's decision to approve the separation agreement between HP and Mr. Hurd."
This latest cover-your-ass move by HP comes on the heels of a shareholder lawsuit alleging that the company's board of directors was financially irresponsible for giving Hurd a $53 million severance deal. Gee, ya think?
Hurd, if you recall, was enveloped in a cloud of controversy last summer amid allegations of sexual harassment by Jodie Fisher, an HP contractor, and expense-account irregularities. Hurd abruptly resigned on Aug. 6 and was hired a month later by HP rival Oracle to be co-president.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also is investigating Hurd's departure. The SEC probe is focusing on allegations that Hurd passed along insider information about HP's pending purchase of Electronic Data Systems and destroyed evidence.
Clearly HP wants the shareholder lawsuit to go away, and getting a stamp of approval for its handling of the Hurd affair by an outside party is one way to accomplish that goal. The thing is, even if the shareholder action is successful, what are the shareholders going to get? An abject apology from HP? Is Hurd going to hand back his $53 million, or even part of it? And even if he does, so what? In terms of its value to HP's millions of shareholders, that's peanuts.
Maybe the outside lawyers will determine that the board, or some members of the board, blundered in awarding Hurd such a lavish kiss-off package. Again, so what? A couple of wealthy board members resign, and nobody's life changes.
It's all legal theater. Pass the peanuts. I mean, popcorn.
Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.