HP deployed 'Truth Squad' in post-Autonomy PR blitz to defend Meg Whitman

And it bombarded the British PM with personal phone calls

Autonomy Trial HP furiously lobbied key British government ministers in late 2012 as part of a desperate effort to "preserve the credibility" of CEO Meg Whitman after its $8.8bn writedown of Autonomy – including direct phone calls to the then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron, London's High Court learned this morning.

The writedown was seen as a severe blow to Hewlett Packard's core management, demanding "Aggressive early outreach to frame HP story" [sic] according to an explosive internal strategy document for "Project Sutton" shown to the court during the trial in England's capital this morning.

That document (PDF, 126kB/25 pages) reveals in detail how HP, as was, had a private phone call with Cameron before the public writedown announcement was made. After the event, HP went on to lobby then-chancellor George Osborne, and ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills with personal letters and phone calls.

Even the current chancellor, Philip Hammond, was sent a letter. At the time he was defence secretary. HP's customers, meanwhile, were sent an email inviting them to watch the earnings call webcast, with HP's sales force given email lines-to-take on how to spin the multibillion writedown – even as the firm went all-in with efforts to get its own version of events into the news media and analysts' notes.

The Project Sutton document describes HP's policy of deploying its "Truth Squad" to "design messaging and implement tactics that preserve the credibility of the CEO and management" and "defend the board from attacks".

In a key part of the document focused on media spin, HP told its internal mouthpieces to:

  • Protect the HP turnaround narrative
  • Aggressively work with reporters to breakdown and explain complex aspects of the write-down news
  • Create two coverage streams with a focus on earnings if possible

Above all, the document shows that HP really was rocked to its core by the $8.8bn writedown of HPE, and spent a lot of time and effort defending Whitman against accusations that she was to blame for the writedown.

As readers will recall, and as the High Court has been told today, the two key figures inside HP who were driving the buyout were former CEO Leo Apotheker and chief strategy 'n' tech bod Shane Robison, both of whom parted ways with HP shortly after the buyout of Autonomy. With Apotheker having been replaced with Whitman, the new CEO was being forced to defend something that wasn’t her idea.

Lynch and co-defendant Sushovan Hussain deny all wrongdoing over the sale and writedown of Autonomy, insisting in their defence that HP bungled its management of the firm after the buyout completed. The trial continues. ®

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