Companies in glass houses…you know the rest

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Hewlett-Packard Co. reacted swiftly to the news that Dell was going private in a $24.4 billion buyout.

“Dell has a very tough road ahead,” the company said in a statement it issued. “Leveraged buyouts tend to leave existing customers an innovation at the curb.”

Now, I know these two companies have a history of sparring in public. But this latest salvo seems so unnecessary. After all, it’s not like HP hasn’t had a few boardroom disasters of its own. Carly Fiorina stepped down in 2005 amid an upheavel. Patricia Dunn was forced out from the board after a disastrous investigation into boardroom leaks that included spying on the phone records of reports and directors. I’m going to stop after mentioning these two – but as anyone who follows HP knows, the list of ignominious decisions, acquisitions and missteps is a long, long one.

Why didn’t HP just decline comment or keep its comments to itself – and let its actions speak for the corporation?  You want to pounce on the competition in a moment of perceived weakness? Fine, go out-innovate or outsell Dell.

I can think of several different businesses – one that I covered for many years and one that I worked for – that would never publicly speak of the competition. These businesses were invigorated by the competition. They were keenly aware of all developments. They reacted to any signs of weakness.

But, they took the high road and kept mudslinging out of the public record. In fact, neither the business I covered nor the one I worked for ever publicly mentioned the competition’s name. It was always Brand X.

I’m not trying to defend Dell here. Sure, I can see how the LBO might leave the company vulnerable. I don’t blame HP for trying to pounce on Dell, either. They should be pouncing. While Dell’s management is focused on restructuring the company, it’s the perfect opportunity for HP to capture market share by focusing on new products and their customers. I’m just not sure it needed to announce it with a statement; just do it.

If I were a shareholder of HP – one who had seen the company trip up so often – I’d want them to keep their focus on the business, and not on crafting some silly statement.  This seems more fitting for a playground spat, not a major corporation. But then again, reviewing the corporate history of HP during the past decade, this is par for its course.

Now we’ll see if the jab can be reinforced with a blow to Dell’s market share or if it’s just empty words.