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HP Directors Lack Skin in Game: Opinion

By the time this article appears, we will likely know the next CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ - Get Report).

And leading the committee who selected the new CEO is Silicon Valley wunderkind Marc Andreessen. Andreessen was the public face of HP when it ousted former CEO Mark Hurd in August (after granting Hurd an estimated $35 million severance package to get him through in between jobs).

When HP and Oracle (ORCL - Get Report) crossed legal swords after Hurd became Oracle's next co-president 30 days after leaving HP, it was apparently Andreessen who called Larry Ellison to smooth things over.

HP shareholders might be surprised to learn, however, that Marc Andreessen owns exactly zero shares in HP. As an HP shareholder, I'm very disappointed that Andreessen and most of his colleagues on the HP board haven't dug into their own (deep) pockets to buy some HP stock.

I'd prefer feeling that my representatives on the board feel the same pain that I do when the stock tanks. For this reason, I've recently filed a shareholder resolution with HP to adopt high stock ownership requirements for all directors. I hope that HP will allow its shareholders to vote on this matter at the spring annual meeting.

Long-term shareholders have been disappointed in HP's stock returns relative to the S&P 500 index return over the last decade. As of Sept. 22, 2010, HP's 10-year stock return was 25.14% vs. -22.64% for the S&P 500.

Over that time period, HP's board has been criticized for lax governance practices, including (1) the recent decision to oust Mark Hurd for questionable behavior, while still paying him a rich severance package, (2) the decision to use "pretexting" to gather information on a Wall Street Journal reporter and some of HP's own directors in 2006, and (3) the decision to pay Hurd $98 million in total compensation (before severance) for the three years prior his departure even though HP's stock return for the three years prior to Aug. 6, 2010, was -2.33%.

The Corporate Library, a corporate governance ratings firm, has consistently rated HP's board as "high risk" for its inability to manage incentive compensation. Nell Minow, co-founder and executive editor of The Corporate Library, has called HP's board "a serial corporate governance offender."

I believe that HP's outside directors would be more vigilant and effective monitors of management, as well as better judges of effective compensation packages (including executive perks such as personal use of corporate aircraft, personal travel and meals expenses, and gross-ups at the expense of shareholders for these executive taxable benefits), if all of them owned a significant equity stake in HP which they had to dig into their own pockets to buy, rather than being granted stock or stock options.
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