September 20, 2006 11:10 PM PDT
HP's Dunn toasted at gala dinner
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SAN FRANCISCO--Hewlett-Packard's embattled chairman, Patricia Dunn, accepted a "hall of fame" leadership award at a gala dinner here on Wednesday night where she received a standing ovation from local executives.
The applause and paeans to a long and successful career seemed to gratify Dunn, who has been the subject of ongoing criticism and media scrutiny since reports in the last two weeks revealed that she had called for and perhaps helped to direct an intrusive probe into boardroom leaks.
Dunn thanked the Bay Area Council, a regional business lobbying and networking group, for "courage in standing by your decision (to grant the award) in such unexpected circumstances." The council's board of directors includes representatives of Wells Fargo, Pacific Gas & Electric, Bank of America, and the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.
"All I will say about the maelstrom is that I look forward eagerly, in the near future, to the time when I can set the record straight and go back to leading my life as discreetly as possible," Dunn said during her after-dinner speech.
HP's investigative practices have become the subject of criminal probes by the U.S. Justice Department and the California attorney general. The U.S. House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 28 where Dunn is expected to testify. HP's investigators accessed the phone records of more than a dozen people, including three CNET News.com reporters, and apparently engaged in physical surveillance and sending bogus e-mail tips.
The bizarre juxtaposition of receiving a leadership award from an organization that stresses business ethics and good corporate governance was not lost on Dunn, who said she's aware of the "irony of being inducted into the Bay Area Business Hall of Fame."
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But for the most part, other dinner speakers offered plaudits to Dunn--there was even a slideshow with her high school yearbook photo--with only passing references to her recent troubles.
David Zenoff, chairman of Larkin Street Youth Services, applauded "her strong sense of humanity, high standards and doing the right thing." (Dunn and her husband are major donors to the nonprofit organization, which seeks to help homeless youth in San Francisco.)
Dunn "epitomizes the special spirit and qualities that our country and the Bay Area have long cherished," Zenoff said.
"Without the leadership our Bay Area Hall of Fame honors, we would be in a heck of a mess," said Alexander Mehran, CEO of the Sunset Development Company and the council's chairman.
Mehran did joke, however, that news reports have painted Dunn as the "new J. Edgar Hoover of Silicon Valley."
Dunn capped her speech with a joke as well. She said "it wouldn't hurt if the pope continued to make controversial comments"--which might get her name off the front page.
According to an HP spokesman on Thursday, CEO Mark Hurd--who has now been linked to the investigation--did not attend the dinner. (News.com was unable to verify who was present at the head table on Wednesday night because reporters were required to stand in the back of the hotel ballroom in a roped-off area.) The Washington Post reported on its Web site late Wednesday night that Hurd approved of an elaborate sting operation aimed at deceiving News.com reporter Dawn Kawamoto.
A second unlikely juxtaposition was Dunn sharing a stage with Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, which had at least one of its reporters "pretexted" by HP investigators. But Keller, who spoke afterward, stuck to a prepared script about national security and journalism.
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