Technology

HP's Most Trustworthy Man


Slide Show >>An apology by Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd for what he called "disturbing" efforts to uncover board leaks came with a few important caveats. As problematic as it was, the investigation was nevertheless "absolutely proper and appropriate," Hurd noted. And ultimately, it fingered "the source of the leaks."

That source of at least one leak has already been identified as Director George "Jay" Keyworth, who resigned on Sept. 12 after acknowledging that he spoke to a CNET reporter in January after a company retreat. But Keyworth maintains that he was not the source of earlier leaks. HP (HPQ) has admitted that the company doesn't know who to blame for a series of stories fed to the press in 2005, despite declarations by Hurd and others that the company has gotten to the bottom of the leaks.

Now, a series of e-mails turned over to House of Representatives investigators and obtained by BusinessWeek illustrate that Keyworth was considered a valuable asset to Hewlett-Packard's media relations team, which frequently and aggressively touted him to reporters. Indeed, the longtime HP director was one of the company's biggest boosters. And he was an old government hand with years of experience dealing with reporters, most recently as chairman of the Progress & Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank based in Washington.

CLEARING HIS NAME. Keyworth is an easy target. He has admitted talking to a reporter without getting corporate approval, and he has resigned under pressure. But he also appears to be working furiously to clear his name. As part of his agreement to resign, Keyworth signed a confidentiality agreement with Hewlett-Packard and declined, through his lawyer, to comment for this story.

But his agreement with HP also required the company to back off of its claim that Keyworth had leaked damaging company secrets to the press, a step it took on Sept. 12. "At HP's request, Dr. Keyworth often had contacts with the press to explain HP's interests," HP said in a written statement.

"The board does not believe that Dr. Keyworth's contact with CNET in January, 2006, was vetted through appropriate channels, but also recognizes that his discussion with the CNET reporter was undertaken in an attempt to further HP's interests."

MASTER OF SPIN. Indeed, e-mails written by members of HP's media relations team show Keyworth to be a heavyweight when it came to putting a positive spin on HP's image. The company's public relations staff considered him a corporate booster, and frequently encouraged him to talk to reporters, even without supervision.

Dates of the e-mails, and their authors, were blacked out before they were obtained by Business Week. Sources close to the investigation say the e-mails were written by members of the company's media relations team.

In one e-mail to a Fortune reporter, an HP vice-president of media relations pitches an interview with Keyworth, calling him a "prot??g??" of HP founder Dave Packard and noting that he was HP's longest-serving board member. In another e-mail to a reporter, an HP public relations staffer sets up interviews with Keyworth and Director Richard Hackborn.

A DEPENDABLE SOURCE. Hackborn, according to the staffer, needed some handling. "To put Hackborn at ease, I'm going to sit in," the author writes. Keyworth, on the other hand, needed no supervision. "I'm going to hand you [my] tape recorder for that one and leave you [to] chat alone??You'll find Keyworth incredibly insightful on all things HP," the press handler tells the reporter.

Indeed, the media relations department had great faith in Keyworth's ability to get the company message out, and apparently kept him on a long leash. In an e-mail to Keyworth, an HP public relations staffer gives the director talking points for an interview with Fortune, telling him to talk up then-CEO Carly Fiorina. "Transition to Carly and her skill set," the staffer says. "Specifically, her brilliant strategic mind and her confidence??llustrated by her deep engagement of the Board."

The HP staffer even compliments Keyworth on an earlier sound bite he had made about the company "needing and getting a General Patton." Keyworth is encouraged to share anecdotes about Fiorina with the Fortune reporter. "This is an opportunity for us to reset Carly's image to show the Carly we all know and love," the e-mail concludes.

GUILT BY ASSOCIATION. One source close to Hewlett-Packard says many company insiders remain furious at Keyworth, blaming him for "pulling the trigger" on the pivotal January CNET article. The article led to another internal investigation that ultimately brought HP's questionable tactics to light, led to Patricia Dunn's ouster as chairman, and could eventually lead to criminal charges. Keyworth's credibility with some HP loyalists was destroyed, the source says, by his association with the CNET article.

But Keyworth seems determined to prove his innocence. Sources close to the House investigation say Keyworth is cooperating and has even turned over recordings of voice mails left on his answering machine by a Wall Street Journal reporter whose calls he wasn't returning.

In one case, Keyworth had reservations about returning an unsolicited call from a reporter. After receiving the call, Keyworth reached out??rom a vacation in Italy??o HP's public relations office. "I usually just ignore such calls," Keyworth wrote in an e-mail, "but do you know what's on his mind?"

Click here to see a slideshow of e-mails obtained by BusinessWeek.


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