Hiring Damaged Goods, or Why Mark Hurd Doesn’t Deserve Another Chance

Former HP CEo Mark Hurd

Let me be perfectly clear about this: Everyone deserves a second-chance. Sometimes, people even deserve a third or fourth chance.

That’s why the notion that some people who are currently unemployed are somehow “damaged goods” and not worth hiring makes me want to scream. My colleague John Zappe wrote about this phenomenon over at ERE and Howard Adamsky followed it up with an incredibly thoughtful essay that dug deeper into the topic.

Here’s what Adamsky wrote that stayed with me:

Not hire the unemployed? Horrifying, of course, but let’s be honest here. Discrimination of the unemployed has been going on for as long as I have been recruiting … Unspeakably evil in its intent as well as its outcome, but let’s be realistic: most companies do not want to hire the unemployed. After all, if they were any good, they would have a job right?

To tell anyone that active candidates are of poor quality, solely because they are active in the midst of the worst economic times since the Great Depression, is unconscionable.

Yes, I believe, as Howard Adamsky does, that the notion that the many millions of unemployed in America are somehow damaged goods and not worthy of another job is repugnant and morally reprehensible. Everyone, with few exceptions, deserve that second chance.

Why clamor to hire Mark Hurd?

But here is one of those exceptions, and it goes by the name of Mark Hurd, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and a guy who lost his job recently under very strange and mysterious circumstances.

Lots of people believe that Hurd wrongly got the boot, most notably Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, but I expect that from another CEO. What I don’t expect is that one of the good people over at Fistful of Talent (FOT), a blog devoted to smart and sensible talent management practices, would stand up and clamor for Mark Hurd to get another ride on the CEO merry-go-round.

Here’s what set me off, from FOT’s Steve Boese:

I think a savvy and imaginative organization could potentially get a huge bargain in taking a shot at Hurd or (Steven) Slater, (or one of the thousands of others out there with similar, but lesser known stories)…

Scandal for some can equal opportunity for others. Access to experienced, motivated talent, with a huge chip on their shoulder, willing to do whatever they can to redeem themselves to their families, in their industry, and to the public could be a winning formula for an organization willing to see beyond the headlines and angry blog posts.”

Why Hurd should never be a CEO again

I don’t know about re-hiring Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who took the emergency chute to infamy, because the jury is still out on just what happened with him, and why. But rehiring Mark Hurd? That’s a “winning formula?” Why would anyone with the slightest blip of brain activity choose to go down that road given what we now know:

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I’m sure there’s more to add here, but isn’t that enough to make a compelling case that Mark Hurd not work as a CEO again, anywhere? Yes, everyone deserves a second chance, but as Holman Jenkins points out over at The Wall Street Journal, Hurd has already had his.

The CEO revolving door needs to stop

The bottom line is this: The revolving door of CEOs under-performing (or failing) at one company and then getting booted out only to land at another has got to stop. The notion that CEOs like to perpetuate – that only a few, special people with incredibly hard-to-find skills can serve as a CEO – is as ludicrous as it is silly. It’s  the 21st Century equivalent of the Divine Right of Kings, and equally indefensible.

Maybe if we did a better job of succession planning and promoting talent up into the CEO job (and getting HR more involved in this process) we wouldn’t have to keep hiring CEO candidates who bring a lot of baggage to the table.

The only thing more surprising than companies clamoring to hire Hurd is that people who are generally smart and thoughtful about innovative talent management practices — and yes, I mean you nice folks over at Fistful of Talent – would make any kind of a serious case for this kind of nonsense.

Mark Hurd is walking away from HP with a boatload of money. He doesn’t need to work again, ever. Let’s hope no one will buy into the hype, ignore the evidence, and give him that chance.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.