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HP faces shareholder revolt after Autonomy debacle

27 Feb 2013
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HP's board faces a showdown with disgruntled investors next month as one group begins a campaign to unseat two directors and its external auditors after a string of disastrous acquisitions.

With the fallout from its troubled £10bn acquisition of Autonomy shows no sign of abating, CtW Investment Group, which shares in HP, said the current board was incapable of overseeing the technology giant.

"We believe the board is hobbled by years' worth of poor judgement, lack of accountability and weak oversight of critical functions," wrote Richard Clayton, a research director at CtW Investment in an open letter to other shareholders [pdf].

Clayton called on shareholders to vote against the re-election of John Hammergren, who he said “bears particular responsibility for a string of unsuccessful acquisitions” - most notably that of Autonomy, as well as EDS and Palm.

The letter also calls on shareholder to vote against retaining Ernst & Young as HP's external auditors, and the re-election of Kennedy Thomson as a director, who it accused of being too cosy with the accountancy firm.

"We have grave concerns over HP’s unusually extensive use of its outside auditor to provide non-audit consulting services, which in our view threatens both the appearance and actuality of auditor independence. 

"These concerns are only reinforced by events including the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee’s hearings on HP’s tax practices, and the nearly $17 billion EDS and Autonomy write-downs," Clayton added.

Given HP's lamentable stock market performance over the past few years - they are down more than 60 percent since 2010 - its board could have a real fight on its hands, said John O'Brien, research director at analyst firm TechMarketView.

HP chief executive Meg Whitman may have bought herself some time, after a recent uptick in stock price, but faces a monumental task is turning around the ailing giant, O'Brien added.

"We do have serious concerns about how well she will be able to effect the big changes that are needed to really turn things around at HP," he told V3.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the threat from CtW has seen HP chairman, Ray Lane, mobilise his defences, meeting with up to 20 large institutional investors in an effort to quell the revolt.

HP has undergone a traumatic few years, with a revolving door on its chief executive office, a string of write downs associated with botched multi-billion dollar acquisitions, and its failure to spot big industry trends such as mobile.

HP's annual shareholders' meeting is scheduled for 20 March.

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