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What Mark Hurd and Charlie Rangel Have in Common

It might seem as though the ousted CEO of Silicon Valley giant HP and an embattled Congressman from New York would have little in common.

Mark Hurd was a 53-year-old operations whiz and one of the most respected CEOs in America until he stunned Wall Street by resigning following expense account irregularities, other code of conduct violations, and sexual harassment claims that have been settled. Charlie Rangel is the 80-year-old, 20-term representative from Harlem, who is now facing ethics charges that include allegations that he inappropriately lived in rent-controlled apartments and did not pay necessary taxes on an island villa.

One left his post without a public fight, albeit with more than $35 million in his pockets. The other is battling the charges, setting up a potentially historic public trial.

But both leaders would like their reputations back, thank you very much.

Hurd and Rangel each made headlines today for acts of defiance that surprised their colleagues or peers. In Rangel's case, it was the bizarre, rambling speech he made on the floor of the House on Tuesday, in which he vowed that he was "not going away," complained that no one on his side of the aisle had spoken out on his behalf, and poked fun at President Obama.

Hurd's has been more subtle. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the company's board was surprised that the ousted CEO didn't go quietly. While his hefty severance payment is subject to a non-disparagement clause, and Hurd supporters like Oracle CEO Larry Ellison have said they were not asked to champion his cause, Hurd reportedly hired crisis communications firm Sitrick & Co. And over the weekend, people familiar with "Hurd's version of events" were anonymously quoted as disputing the board's claims that he misused corporate funds.

That a leader would choose to defend themselves in the wake of ethics violations is not surprising. But in today's world, careful public image orchestration usually has a way of at least erasing any evidence of efforts to restore one's reputation, if not keeping a leader quiet altogether.

Rangel's speech and Hurd's anonymous supporters are reminders of one universal truth: no amount of peer pressure, and no amount of cash, can stop a leader from wanting to keep his legacy intact. As one commenter on the WSJ story wrote, even Shakespeare's Iago knew the importance of reputation: "Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls."

By Jena McGregor

 |  August 11, 2010; 11:43 AM ET |  Category:  Bad leadership , Corporate leadership , Government leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Google's soul-searching | Next: The moral hypocrisy epidemic

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Posted by: howmalls | August 12, 2010 1:53 PM

One of the cornerstones of reputations is trust, bestowed on people that are trustworthy. At the very least, Hurd and Rangel's trustworthiness is being questioned. Let's not lose sight of the root of their problems.

Posted by: GeorgeBradt | August 12, 2010 6:18 AM

Good try but these are not closely related other than they are both in the public eye.

Posted by: rlj1 | August 11, 2010 4:37 PM

What these two have in common is their shared belief that the rules applicable to ordinary mortals don't apply to them.

But that aside, if Hurd were a blameless man who cared about his reputation, he wouldn't have settled, not even with a clause that obligated the victim to make implausible public statements on his behalf.

Posted by: Itzajob | August 11, 2010 3:17 PM

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