Big companies; big failures

Today’s HP news is absolutely priceless.

Sorry; that came out wrong.  Actually, the news carries a price tag of close to $9B, with $5B attributed to an $11B acquisition completed last year.  HP alleges that there were “serious accounting improprieties” at Autonomy, leading HP to overpay for the acquisition by — let’s see — pretty close to 100%.

Meg Whitman speaks at the Tech Museum in San J...

Meg Whitman speaks at the Tech Museum in San Jose, CA February 17, 2009. Photo by Max Morse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is this great, or what?

A catastrophe this huge can’t be that simple, though.  Although this news is still fresh off the press, here are a few points to ponder as more details leak out:

  • The two HP execs who championed this acquisition have left HP, though former CEO Leo Apotheker managed to leave with $25M in his pocket.  Interestingly, though, most of the Board that approved this acquisition, including current CEO Meg Whitman, are still with the company.  Can they all really just get themselves off the hook by throwing their former execs under the bus?
  • Whitman is keeping those buses busy; she’s also throwing Autonomy auditor Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu under there, too.  Clearly, this doesn’t look good for Deloitte, but can there be more to it than that?  After all, it wasn’t that long ago that we discovered that the credit rating agencies we trusted to grade the risk of all sorts of financial instruments weren’t really doing their jobs.  So, let me make sure I’ve got this right:  credit agencies who were paid by the companies they were grading were a bit too “optimistic”, and now we’ve got an accounting company who was paid by Autonomy who “missed” accounting improprieties.  I’m sure that’s a coincidence.
  • Five billion bucks is hardly covered by “oops”, especially if someone really was cooking the books.  Watch to see if anyone winds up paying any serious fines, let alone serving jail time.
  • Again, even if there were people actively trying to pull off a gigantic scam, there were a whole bunch of people at HP who swallowed this pile of rubbish hook, line, and sinker.  Conclusion: HP’s management is working at a level that’s way too abstract for them to grasp what’s really going on in their company.  Funny; the same thing seems to have happened with some of our big banks a couple years ago, too, didn’t it?

And finally, one last thought:  a loss this tremendous is only possible for a company as huge as HP.  They literally just declared to shareholders and the rest of the world, something to the effect of, “Yeah, there’s some $8.8B that we were carrying as assets yesterday, and today we’re telling you it’s gone, ok?”  Oops.  And that’s it — life carries on for HP and their 300,000+ employees (that’s half the population of Alaska, by the way).  The really great part?  Today’s $8.8B charge follows an $11B charge last quarter.

Absolutely hilarious, isn’t it?

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