Is there some sort of cosmic struggle between people named Mark and Marc?
Or did Hewlett Packard's (HPQ) newest board member, Marc Andreessen, the Silicon Valley legend who founded Netscape and joined HP's board last year, help push former CEO Mark Hurd out the door in an effort to assert his influence on the board and the company's direction? That's the latest rumor floating around Silicon Valley. Only problem is, it's probably not true.
Andreessen is by far the most recent high-profile addition to a board that has seen nearly a decade of controversy. Think: Carly, Compaq, pretexting, and now... Hurd. HP's board has seen one controversy after another, so it may not be such a bad thing for someone of Andreessen's stature try to make some things happen.
Om Malik points out that Andreessen "is quite intimate with the company (remember HP bought his company Opsware for $1.6 billion in 2007). He's already heading up the CEO search committee, and he was the public face of HP right after the scandal broke."
In an interview, Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle said he believed that Andreessen is now the driving force behing HP's board, and may have even had a hand in Hurd's departure. "Andreessen is taking a leadership role post-Hurd," says Enderle. "He appears to be the lead architect, and the only one with real tech knowledge."
Andreessen is the first really high-profile HP board addition since the era of then-board Chairman Patricia Dunn and Silicon Valley venture capital legend Tom Perkins -- two former HP board members who departed in the wake of HP's pretexting scandal, when the company was caught spying on and impersonating reporters and board members.
The rest of HP's board includes heavy-hitters like Lawrence T. Babbio, Jr. the former Vice Chairman and President of Verizon and John R. Joyce, the Managing Director at private equity titan Silver Lake. But none are as famous as Andreessen -- or as connected with the Internet world. Andreessen is now making venture capital investments for his new firm, Andreessen Horowitz.
Enderle points out that Hurd's contract was coming up for renewal and says the HP board "was looking for graceful exit for him. Then, in the midst of that, the Jodie Fisher thing hit, and I think the board just freaked out. The outside consultant they brought in freaked them out even more, with the possibility of negative headlines, etc."
"Andreessen may have used this as a lever to get Hurd out," Enderle speculates.
Andreessen declined to comment.
It's also possible that Hurd's behavior, once the scandal broke, caused the HP board to lose trust in him. Perhaps HP's board was looking forward to Hurd staying for another 20 years. Now that the matter is embroiled in lawsuits, HP isn't talking.
Even if Andreessen didn't force Hurd out, the board was clearly looking for a way for Hurd to exit, Enderle asserts. Hurd had turned the company around by ruthlessly cutting costs and firing people, and Wall Street liked what it had seen. But as the tech industry evolves at break-neck speed, some believe it's time for HP to start thinking big again now that its books are in order.
"Turnaround specialists set aside emotions and cut the company to the bone in order to get the financials in great shape," Enderle says. "There's a heavy focus on hitting your numbers, but the method they use is very short term. Hurd had no vision, and you can only strip a company so much. Hurd isn't a builder, he's a turn-around guy."
Hurd's departure may have been unexpected, and perhaps the board didn't use the scandal as an excuse to boot him, as Enderle suggests. Nevertheless, it's time for them to look to the future.
If there is one thing HP needs now, it's someone with the vision to build a meaningful future for one of the original Silicon Valley titans. It's either that, or as Kevin Kelleher wrote on DailyFinance, maybe it's time to "break up the bloated beast."