What’s Dunn Got to Do With It?

HP Board Chairwoman Patricia Dunn is under fire for illegal techniques being used to investigate board leaks. How does this relate to small business and the internet? Let me count the ways.

In light of the realization that HP hired investigators who allegedly used illegal tactics to spy on board members and journalists, many are calling for Ms. Dunn’s resignation.

# A “public” company means that you are responsible to the public. From the fiduciary point of view, the public shareholders are your raison d’etre. From a marketing point of view, “everyone else” is a potential customer, and business acumen suggests those customers care about your corporate practices.
# The internet has become the supreme outing entity. Secrets are only relevant to those who are irrelevant. Radar is so sensitive with the interconnected news hounds of the web that you have to be under the radar to hide your stuff. But even there, time is eroding your cloak of anonymity.
# Small business owners do not have boards and layers of management to hide behind. Sure, there are crooks at the corner store too, but they get caught sooner as customers look at their receipts and talk to each other.
# Most large companies would love us to think that Enron and WorldCom are deviant minorities. Thanks to Ms. Dunn, we continue to realize that even companies like HP have big problems behind closed doors, in addition to the leaking board members.

My rule of thumb: the larger the company, the more money is at stake and the more incentive there is to go crooked and slimy. Small businesses are closer to their customers; they get found out sooner. And the market responds harshly.

I’d like to inject neighborhood incentives into secretive corporate board rooms. Concentrating too much power into the hands of a few is bound to cultivate greed. The internet continues to level the playground and expose the bully tactics of a few that affect the many.

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