Cathie Lesjak

Why Mark Hurd's consigliere had to turn against him

August 10, 2010: 12:50 PM ET

Former prosecutor Michael Holston was brought in to enforce an ethics code. His old boss might regret that.

Mark Hurd speaks as Mike Holston looks on. Photo from 2006.

In the 1992 film The Crying Game (memorable for its sexual twists, but I digress without even having gotten started), Forest Whitaker's character famously tells the story of the turtle and the scorpion. The latter mortally stings the former, who with his last breath wants to know why. "It's in my nature," replies the scorpion.

Did a version of this just happen to Mark Hurd at the hands of his own general counsel, Michael Holston? A square-jawed former federal prosecutor, Holston fostered a reputation for extreme uprightness (as well as that of a high-decibel enforcer) at HP (HPQ), the keeper of the company's rejuvenated commitment to ethics following its 2006 pretexting scandal.

As portrayed in Anthony Bianco's recent book "The Big Lie: Spying, Scandal and Ethical Collapse at Hewlett Packard," Holston was the man who saved Hurd's bacon in 2006.  Hurd hired Holston -- a corporate litigator in Philadelphia and a longtime lawyer for HP on various product-oriented litigation issues -- to investigate the spying episode that threatened to bring down Hurd one year into his tenure as HP's CEO. Before long, HP Chairwoman Patricia Dunn was out, replaced by an unscathed Hurd. General Counsel Ann Baskins left too, replaced by, yep, Holston. More

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