Larry Ellison, the billionaire co-founder and CEO of software giant Oracle (ORCL), is angry about the way his friend Mark Hurd was dispatched by Hewlett Packard's (HPQ) board. And Ellison, never known as a shrinking violet, is letting the world know about it.
In a scathing letter released to news organizations late Monday, Ellison excoriated HP's board for making what he characterized as a terrible decision to force Hurd to resign -- a decision that Ellison says will haunt the company and cast a shadow over HP's future.
"The HP Board just made the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple Board fired Steve Jobs many years ago," Ellison wrote. "That decision nearly destroyed Apple -- and would have, if Steve hadn't come back and saved them."
Oracle a Key HP Partner
As the third-largest software maker in the world, Oracle is a major HP partner. Oracle's purchase of Sun Microsystems, completed last January, also means the two companies compete.
In a not-too-subtle swipe at former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, Ellison suggested that HP's board had lost its finest leader since the early days of William Hewitt and David Packard. "HP had a long list of failed CEOs until they hired Mark, who has spent the last five years doing a brilliant job reviving HP to its former greatness," he wrote.
Ellison, a close personal friend of Hurd, blasted HP's board for failing "to act in the best interest of HP's employees, shareholders, customers and partners. The HP board admits that it fully investigated the sexual harassment claims against Mark and found them to be utterly false."
"Cowardly Corporate Political Correctness"
Hurd shocked the technology world by resigning last Friday after HP's board found he had falsified expenses associated with a former HP contractor -- actress and reality show contestant Jodie Fisher. Fisher had filed a sexual harassment claim against Hurd -- which HP's board found was without merit -- but the directors were apparently divided over whether to make it public.
In the end, according to Ellison, HP's board voted 6 to 4 to make the harassment allegation public. Rather than exercising good corporate governance, Ellison portrayed the board as capitulating to "cowardly corporate political correctness."
"Those six directors caused HP to lose a nearly irreplaceable CEO," Ellison wrote. "Those six directors who voted against Mark can try hard to hide behind a claim of 'good corporate governance,' but their decision has already cost HP shareholders over $10 billion ... and my guess (is) it's going to cost them a lot more." HP shares have fallen more than 15% since Hurd resigned last Friday.
Expense Fraud Claims an "Insult"
Ellison went on to ridicule the board's stated explanation for Hurd's ouster -- that the CEO falsified expense reports.
"The final insult was when the HP board [went] to the press and suggested that Mark Hurd engaged in expense fraud over a few thousand dollars," Ellison wrote. "This is not credible. Mark Hurd, like most other CEOs, does not fill out his own expense reports, so even if errors were made, Mark didn't make them."
"What the expense fraud claims do reveal," Ellison concluded, "is an HP board desperately grasping at straws in trying to publicly explain the unexplainable: how a false sexual harassment claim and some petty expense report errors led to the loss of one of Silicon Valley's best and most respected leaders."
In a parting shot at HP's board, Ellison described Hurd as a "close friend" and said he was "deeply offended by what just happened to him. If the HP board is offended by my comments ... so be it."
For his part, Hurd's ouster will be softened by the fact that he's departing with a severance package worth as much as $37 million -- a payout that's already drawing criticism. Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP's personal systems group, is seen as a leading contender to succeed Hurd as CEO.