You know you're in trouble when a newspaper story about you begins with the words, "A horny..." I speak of ex-Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Mark Hurd, who was accused by former porn actress Jodie Fisher of making numerous advances towards her - all supposedly spurned - and who tried unsuccessfully to keep private an eight-page letter outlining Fisher's sensational claims (and penned by Fisher's attorney, Gloria Allred). As it turns out, the H-P board determined that Hurd was guilty of spending H-P money inappropriately (it sidestepped the sexual harassment claims). There's little question that Hurd acted improperly, but far less clear is what exactly happened (or didn't happen) between those two. A Delaware court found the letter to be "mildly embarrassing," which has to be the understatement of 2011. A snippet:
Ms. Fisher was scared. She was a nervous wreck but attempted to appear relaxed. She sat down on one of two love seats in the sitting room. She was worried when you came over and sat directly next to her and put your arm on the back of the love seat. As you did so. your hand brushed across her breast. The first time Ms. Fisher thought it was a mistake. lt happened a second time and Ms. Fisher said "you do know that you are touching my breast. right?" You said "oh, sorry. sorry" and then laughed it off. You both chatted for a bit and then you looked at Ms. Fisher and said. "So, you`ll stay the night, right? You`ll stay'?" Ms. Fisher was horrified as everything she feared was coming to pass. Ms. Fisher said "Absolutely not. I barely know you and you are my boss." You told her that she worked for Ms. Fimbres. not you, that she should not worry about that. You tried to persuade her to spend the night with you. This went on painfully for another hour.
Trouble is, Fisher followed up with a letter saying that the original letter was full of inaccuracies. She wasn't specific. That letter came after Fisher and Hurd reached an out-of-court settlement (and two days before Hurd's resignation from H-P). The biggest problem in Fisher's account is a series of emails between Hurd and Fisher that hardly suggests anything is amiss. On the contrary. Here's just a sample:
After second meeting: "Mark! It was great to see you in Denver and meet with you and Caprice about your program. I am looking forward to working with you and helping HP grow and continue to prosper..."
Fisher writes in advance of their trip to Tokyo and says, "I AM SO EXCITED. Can I just say that a few hundred times!!"
"Mark! I hope you're feeling better. Just wanted to say get well soon." Fisher ends the email thread by saying to Hurd, "You're fun. You just are. Have a great weekend."
Yeah, I understand that emails can be taken out of context and that Fisher might have put on a friendly face in order to hold onto to her lucrative contract with H-P. And yet, it's hard to get beyond the disconnect between the account that Allred describes in her letter and the extensive email exchanges that Fisher has with Hurd. Was Fisher being a calculating flirt? Was Hurd just a horny CEO? Did anything actually happen? I also wonder, just as a general observation, why guys insist on being such jerks, even at the risk of personal disaster. We all know about Anthony Weiner and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but can you imagine how many similar episodes have wended their way through corporate boardrooms this year? Aren't there enough adulterous opportunities out there without resorting to unrequited dalliances?
Below is a clip from Billy Wilder's "The Apartment." Ostensibly, it's the story of how a young insurance company worker played by Jack Lemmon finds himself orchestrating a timetable of trysts for several slimeball executives higher up the ladder. But in a broader sense, it captures corporate America's casually sexist attitudes in the early 60s. Yes, things have changed, but I sometimes wonder how much.