Will Leo find the HP leaker?
Computer maker's new chief executive vows to 'get to the bottom' of memo leaks
In a phone interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box," Hewlett-Packard chief executive Leo Apotheker on Wednesday discussed why the PC maker had to reduce earnings forecasts for the year, as well as his strategy for HP's long-term growth.
Oh, he also vowed to find out who was behind the leaks of three memos ahead of Wednesday's planned earnings release in which Apotheker warned top HP executives that the company must cut costs and that plans to hire more workers would have to be put on hold until business improved.
(Also see: HP shares slammed on weak forecast)
Two of the memos were leaked to All Things Digital last week, but it was the third one, leaked to Bloomberg on Monday, that caused a furor in the tech and business press and prompted HP to move up its second-quarter earnings release to Tuesday morning from Wednesday after the market closed.
While most of the reporting this week focused on HP's Q2 earnings, lowered forecast, analyst downgrades and falling stock price, the world's largest PC maker clearly has another problem -- a high-level executive (or executives) who appear to be undermining Apotheker's efforts to revive the company's fortunes.
Apotheker addressed this in the CNBC interview. He was asked, "Can you speak to the challenge, the management challenge of operating a business when what's going on inside the room is getting leaked outside the room? You have three memos that have come out successively, and just in terms of your day to day and the trust or the circle of trust or lack of trust that's around you?"
Yes, it's a slightly incoherent question, but here's Apotheker's reply:
"Well, it is very unfortunate that these things happen, and we will try to get to the bottom of this. But I have full confidence in the team that i'm working with."
If Apotheker really believes that last part about "full confidence" in his team, he's nuts. HP is leaking like a sieve these days. Clearly there is a member (or members) of his team that he absolutely should not trust.
But I suspect his "confidence in the team" talk is just for public consumption. Apotheker more than likely is keenly intent on getting to the bottom of the leaks, and I don't blame him.
Whatever you think of Apotheker's personality, performance or strategy, it's clear that he's being backstabbed by somebody at HP. While leaks are always great for the media and often good for shareholders who otherwise might be kept in the dark about serious issues within a company, they also can be destructive to a corporation, especially if they're coming from a highly placed insider.
Further, you have to question the motives of a company employee who is leaking damaging memos right before an earnings release. Is this an attempt to manipulate share price by an employee who's shorting the stock? It's not an unreasonable question.
I certainly wouldn't be surprised if Apotheker already has his IT staff reviewing every email from the 10 or so senior executives who reportedly were recipients of his memos. Don't be surprised if you soon hear that one or more of Apotheker's lieutenants are "pursuing other opportunities."