NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Oracle (ORCL - Get Report) CEO Larry Ellison is a smart executive with good instincts, but his attack on HP's (HPQ - Get Report) board for the ouster of former CEO Mark Hurd suggests a misguided loyalty to a friend and, more significantly, a dangerously narrow view of what it takes to be a great leader.Ellison blasted HP's board in an email to the New York Times saying that by forcing Hurd out, the board "failed to act in the best interest of HP's employees, shareholders, customers and partners." There are quite a few shareholders and HP employees who see it very differently, based on the feedback I received after my column yesterday in which I argued that HP Shouldn't Pay for Hurd's Mistakes. Many HP shareholders thanked me for looking out for their interests and questioning the severance package granted to Hurd despite the fact that he violated company policy. Several HP employees were chagrined to see a double standard in which Hurd received a generous payout to leave, while rank-and-file employees believe they would have been summarily fired. Where Ellison misses the point is that he focuses too much on the unsubstantiated sexual harassment claims against Hurd. The real issue is that Hurd violated HP's policies on business conduct with a "systematic pattern of improper expenses and inaccurate reports," according to HP General Counsel Mike Holston. Shareholders and employees can perhaps forgive an indiscretion in an executive's personal life that does not interfere with the management of the company. But Hurd, the person who set the tone for corporate conduct and who bore ultimate responsibility for maintaining corporate fiduciary integrity, violated that trust.
There can be no double standard. Leaders must lead by example. They must hold themselves to the highest standards of corporate conduct. Ellison makes the sensational claim that letting Hurd go was the dumbest board decision since Apple ( AAPL - Get Report) fired Steve Jobs. I agree that Apple's board demonstrated extraordinary incompetence in dismissing Jobs, who was guilty only of being a demanding visionary who has since demonstrated repeatedly that he was right. Mark Hurd is no Steve Jobs. And Hurd actually did something wrong that undermined his credibility to lead HP. Both Hurd and the board agreed that he could no longer effectively manage HP after violating his own standards and those of the company. Ellison says HP's board made a mistake, but let's face the facts: This whole issue is Mark Hurd's mistake. The board did what it had to do -- and it let Hurd off easy by granting him a generous severance and letting him resign rather than firing him. Written by Glenn Hall in New York.