Mad Leo tried to sack me over Autonomy, says top HP Inc beancounter

Court hears Catherine Lesjak recall vicious infighting over doomed $11bn buyout

Hewlett Packard's chief beancounter, Catherine Lesjak, was at "war" with former CEO Leo Apotheker, who tried to fire her immediately before he himself was defenestrated, a US court has heard.

During the trial of former Autonomy CFO Sushovan Hussain on an assortment of fraud charges in the US District Court of Northern California, sitting in San Francisco, Lesjak – who was the CFO of the pre-split HP – was called to testify by Hussain's legal team, who were trying to prove that Hewlett Packard (as was) would have gone through with its $11bn buyout of Autonomy regardless.

The later $8.8bn writedown of Autonomy's value once HP's accountants got an inside view of its accounts was one of the factors that led US prosecutors to go after Hussain, on the grounds that someone must have been cooking the books. He denies all the charges.

During her testimony, Lesjak told the court that she was cut out of negotiations over the 2011 purchase of Autonomy, according to US legal news site Law360. When she discovered that the board had approved the deal in spite of her opposition (partly because it was "overvalued"), she told the court that a "small war" broke out between her and Apotheker.

The chief exec, said Lesjak, came into her office and told her she was fired. She promptly demanded a larger payoff from Apotheker, to which he reportedly riposted that she was blackmailing him.

Securing the board's approval was not a smooth ride, as we reported from court filings made in 2015. Former HP chairman Raymond Lane told Apotheker by email that he didn't see Autonomy "as the panacea we think it is", which didn't stop the former CEO from ploughing on anyway. In September 2011 Apotheker was replaced as HP CEO by Meg Whitman and the sacking of Lesjak never went through, though the Autonomy deal closed in that October.

US District Judge Charles Breyer eventually told Hussain's lawyers in court that he was "shutting down" their attempts to prove, by cross-examining Lesjak, that HP's top ranks were in such internal disarray in 2011 that the Autonomy buyout would have gone ahead regardless of the state of its financials. Prosecutors are claiming that Hussain misled both investors and HP about the state of Autonomy in the run-up to the deal.

The trial continues. ®

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