Beware of rivalry – within your board, your executive team, your department

by Erin McCune on December 10, 2006

in Caught My Eye, Change Management

Business Week's December 18th issue features their second annual "Best and Worst" recap. The HP boardroom scandal is highlighted as the Worst Boardroom Rivalry, and attributes the debacle to the contentious relationship between Thomas J Perkins and Patricia C Dunn:

Excerpted from Business Week:

Clearly, Patricia C. Dunn and Thomas J. Perkins were never going to be
the best of friends. A onetime journalism student who rose to lead
Barclays Global Investors, the 53-year-old Dunn comes off as humble,
buttoned-down, and ego-less-far more interested in good governance
processes than in personal fame. Perkins, on the other hand, is
the74-year-old mega-rich co-founder of venture-capital powerhouse
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. He's brash, bold, and never shy
about imparting his opinion-or imposing his will.

Given all their
differences, it's ironic that Dunn and Perkins will now be inextricably
linked in Hewlett-Packard-Gate. She was the one who oversaw allegedly
illegal spying to find the source of boardroom leaks, and failed to
stop investigators from improperly gaining access to the home phone
records of reporters and board members, including Perkins. (Dunn
recently pleaded not guilty to four felony charges related to the
spying scandal.) It was Perkins, after learning that such “pretexting”
had been used, that sicced the feds, the California Attorney General,
and the media on Dunn and hp's board.

Their antipathy had been
simmering for years. When Dunn became chairwoman after Perkins helped
topple former ceo Carleton S. “Carly” Fiorina in early 2005, her pesky
obsession with boardroom process got on his nerves. Perkins protested
fiercely when Dunn demanded that directors take courses on the latest
governance “best practices,” and some say he made an overt bid to have
her ousted. When Dunn's leak probe fingered Perkins' friend George A.
“Jay” Keyworth earlier this year, it was too much. Perkins resigned in
a huff. The final irony is that their roles were reversed: Dunn's
obsession with proper boardroom conduct led to the most infamous stain
on HP's otherwise strong ethical code, and may have been against the
law. And it was one of Silicon Valley's most free-wheeling cowboys that
called in the feds.

A reminder to all of us to not only keep our own egos in check, but to carefully monitor and manage the behavior of our employees, peers, and bosses. When rivalry gets out of control, many more people are affected that the two parties at the center of the conflict. An attempt to diffuse the tension is worth the potential discomfort of a frank conversation.

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