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DealBreaker Of the Year Candidate: Patricia Dunn

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Our second candidate for DealBreaker of the Year might be a bit unexpected choice—former Hewlett Packard board chairman Patricia Dunn. Just today news broke that Hewlett Packard will have to pay $14.5 million to settle the civil case stemming from the spying scandal that resulted in Patti Cakes stepping down. But the DealBreaker of the Year award is beyond good and evil. Sometimes the world of finance is moved by the forces of light and sometimes by the forces of darkness. This year, Pattie Cakes clearly claimed her place in American corporate history, on the front pages of the business sections and, certainly, all over DealBreaker.
The pretexting story is now very well-known. At least one member of the board of directors of Hewlett Packard was leaking information to the press. The board investigated but the leaks persisted. A second round of investigations was authorized by Dunn, and that's when the trouble started. The investigators charged with finding the leak lied to telephone companies to obtain the phone records of board members and journalists, and when news of this kind of corporate spying broke, America was scandalized. Hearings on Capitol Hill were called, criminal charges were filed, heads rolled. Dunn's now jobless and facing possible jail time while she attempts to deal with cancer.
But long before she became known as Pretexting Pattie, Dunn was regarded as one of the woman the most accomplished and powerful women in corporate America. There may yet be more chapters to be written in this American life.
In many ways, Dunn's story is tragic because she did so many things right. Well, if not right, then according to the books—she was a true believer in the reigning ideology of corporate governance and it was this zeal that was her undoing. This would have been a very different year if not for Patricia Dunn, which is why we've made her a candidate for DealBreaker of the Year.
Value Added: Other than the pretexting misstep, Dunn's tenure at the head of Hewlett Packard's board is considered exemplary. Her downfall also helped teach us two important lessons. First, that there is something wrong with the process-obsessed view of corporate governance. Second, by falling so publicly while Hewlett Packard's stock continued to climb, we learned that corporate boards may be even less relevant than we thought.
Risk Factors: Dunn's insistence that she didn't do anything wrong struck us as, well, a little bit scary. It seemed so far removed from reality. She never seemed to get how frustrating or even insulting her testimony about the pretexting affair was. She gave the impression that no-one had ever challenged her authority. Being in love might mean never having to say you're sorry. Being the chairman of the board certainly does not.
Should Pattie Cakes be the DealBreaker of the Year? Well, she’s only the second candidate we’ve named (the first was Hank Paulson), so this might be premature. But we invite you to let loose with your inner-most feelings in the comments section below. And if you want to nominate other candidates, please feel free to email us at tips@dealbreaks in Business (If you can use the format we’ve laid out above, all the better. If it’s a hassle, we’ll take ‘em as we get ‘em.) If we use your nomination, you’ll get a free copy of Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Question.
Read More About Patrica Dunn:
Patricia Dunn Archives [DealBreaker]
Hewlett Packard Archives [DealBreaker]
Wikipedia Entry [Wikipedia]