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The Muddled Leak

If Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were alive today, what would he make of the spectacle that is Hewlett-Packard? No doubt he …

If Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were alive today, what would he make of the spectacle that is Hewlett-Packard? No doubt he would see HP’s board leak with its comic-tragic outcome as perfect source material for opera buffa. Instead of The Magic Flute, Wolfie might have scored The Muddled Leak. He might have to reverse gender roles and feature Ms. Dunn’s Papagena in the role conceived for Papageno, the hapless everyman who suffers the inscrutable trials of the Masonic priesthood. Tom Perkins as the opera’s heavy, Monostatus, is too good to be true. Aloof and vaguely mysterious, CEO Mark Hurd is a fitting Sarastro. The HP directors are ideal for the priesthood of the sun. Officers and employees would make a sparkling chorus, or they could take turns as Tamino, the protagonist who journeys forth searching for harmony and enlightenment. Tough Choices, Carly Fiorina’s memoir, gives full vent to her score-settling accounts of villainy and perfidy ascribed to various players on the HP stage. Does anyone doubt that this catty coloratura is the perfect Queen of the Night?

There’s just one problem with life imitating art. The HP saga is noticeably short in the hero department. While The Magic Flute is a delightful fairy tale story and invitation to enlightenment, in the case of HP it’s still unclear who has enlightened whom. Feelings are a bit raw. And it’s still a story without a happy ending where all sides are reconciled.

Rarely does business offer such compelling drama. The HP characters are all too familiar. For the most part, people in authority set out to do the right things but find their path blocked by circumstance and personal conflict. Soon, decisions that appear at first to look merely off-white become gray. Before long, the grey shades to something more bituminous. This is the hazard all leaders face.

In this issue contributing editor C.J. Prince investigates how and why some leaders go off the rails in this way. “When Bad Things Happen To Good CEOs” catalogs how otherwise “good” CEOs find themselves strangers in a strange land, where decisions backfire and nothing right comes of their best efforts.

With the reign of the imperial CEO having drawn to a close, business leaders often find themselves in an unfamiliar post-Enron landscape where new forces exact conflicting demands. In this and future issues, Chief Executive hopes to provide a road map for leaders to see their way through.

About J.P. Donlon

J.P. Donlon
J.P. Donlon is Editor Emeritus of Chief Executive magazine.