Playing Truth or Dare with HP’s Patricia Dunn

This embarrassing HP episode just keeps getting worse. Now we have HP chair Patricia Dunn being interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, and saying the following:

  • She has no plans to resign, as several board members have urged her to “hang in there” and not step down
  • She was “appalled” to learn of the fraudulent calls to obtain board member phone records
  • She didn’t learn what pretexting was until August
  • She says she kept the board apprised of the leak investigation, both at its outset and ongoing
  • She says CEO Mark Hurd saw the investigation results, and helped figure out how to convey them
  • She say it is “ugly and reprehensible when a board has to harbor a leaker who will not
    come forward and take this burden off the chairman and the rest of the

I hardly know where to start, other than to suggest the WSJ reporter had a great opportunity to play a game of “Truth or Dare”. Nevertheless, let’s take on her more egregious claims, starting with “What me no pretexting”.

So, she is saying the investigators told her that phone records were obtained, but that didn’t trouble her? That makes this whole pretexting thing a smokescreen. Patty, you had an investigator give you telephone records for board members. Who cares whether they got the records by dumpster diving, pretexting, or through molar fillings. Bottom line: The informed shown you flowed from private information from HP board members. That’s the problem, not pretexting in and of itself.

Finallly, while she may think it “ugly and reprehensible” that a board member leak, her investigation was out of line. Dunn might imagine it nice if the leaker had fallen on his own sword and saved her from having to conduct an overreaching investigation, that doesn’t absolve her from responsibility from having been complicit in that investigation.

I’m guessing Dunn has vanishingly low board support right know, and my bet is she almost certainly will take the fall this weekend after the board session. While it might be fun to watch, this is shameful through and through. And as an aside, it will be equally interesting to watch the corollary fallout at Wilson Sonsini: Larry Sonsini could yet get taken down by this episode.


  1. Paul,
    Your coverage of this HP issue has been thorough and your initial analysis quite prescient.
    CNBC’s discussion this morning with Alan Murray and a Business School Dean (Yale?) was disturbing. Two educated men, very knowledgeable about the situation were actually saying the most unethical practice was board members leaking, and that it was the case of a guy worth billions sticking up for a friend in trouble. Is this the ethics they teach at B-schools now?
    And the questions not asked:
    Did HP provide board member addresses and phone numbers to the PI’s?
    Did HP provide SS numbers?
    What information did they provide to the private investigators?
    Who decided what information to give them?
    Who decided to widen the scope of the investigation to reporters?
    How many reporters and non-board members did they pay to have investigated?

  2. Andy,
    Thanks for the note on the CNBC story. I truly hope these two educated men’s views are just the excpetion rather than the norm. I have the very same questions that you asked, thank for asking them.

  3. Hey Paul,
    I’m glad you’re posting new info about this as it comes to light.
    I noticed, though, you’re using the word “pretexting.” I’m not sure I’ve grasped all of the subtleties of what was done, but isn’t this just “lying” or “fraud”?
    The word “pretexting” seems like double speak from the investigative world to make it sound less distasteful.
    Then again, maybe there’s more to it than I understand.

  4. Dominic Jones says:

    Thank for this. It is by far the most insightful and piercing analysis of the coverage today.
    As you say, the journalists had a good opportunity to ask the obvious question. “How did you think you were going to find the leaker?”
    The FT today has her scoffing about how Perkins thought lie-detector tests would be appropriate? Seems to me she gave at least some thought to the the available tactics, though she’s claming she just fobbed the file off on to HP’s security department, who she says have done these things in the past. Okay, do we know about those past investigations?
    Essentially, she’s also admitting to completely botching the investigation by not asking the right questions or managing the investigation more closely. Not the performance you’d want or expect of a director of a $100 billion company, is it?

  5. Dominic Jones says:

    Larry Sonsini looks really bad in this piece on Not returning phone calls…
    Disclosure a Key Question in HP Spat
    The handling by Sonsini and his partners of the disclosure that followed the resignation of Tom Perkins from the board raises perplexing questions about their judgment.

  6. Of course several board members urged her to fight on. They were probably complicit. If Perkins left because of this and thus knew about it how likely is it that other don’t. They all know. They should all be removed. It cannot be up to the board. It has to be up to the shareholders.

  7. Here are the readers digest facts:
    Everyone on the board knew about the investigation, but nobody knew the details. Perkins was one of the most hawkish until….his buddy was found to be the leaker. Then he wanted to keep things quiet. The board said that’s illegal and we can’t do that. So he quit.
    Then he tries to change the story so that it seems like he was opposed to the investigation.
    Seems to me that there are three fundamentally guilty parties here:
    1) the leaker
    2) perkins
    3) HP’s investigative proceedures
    Should the chairwoman be removed because HP’s investgative proceedures (which were in place prior to her tenure) included pretexting?