Disgraced former Hewlett-Packard boss Mark Hurd, ousted on Friday in a sexual harassment and expenses scandal, has found a heavyweight ally in the billionaire Oracle software tycoon Larry Ellison who has blasted the computer company over its "cowardly" handling of the affair.
Ellison, a revered figure in Silicon Valley and America's third richest man, waded into a deepening furore over Hurd’s departure on Tuesday with a furious email to the New York Times backing his friend and occasional tennis opponent.
"The HP board just made the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago," he wrote.
"That decision nearly destroyed Apple and would have if Steve hadn’t come back."
Hurd abruptly quit as chief executive of HP last week following an investigation into his relationship with a former actress, Jodie Fisher, who had been hired by HP as a marketing consultant to make appearances at corporate events.
Fisher accused the HP boss of sexual harassment. Although HP's board found no violation of the company's harassment policy, Hurd was accused of making improper expenses claims to the tune of $20,000.
Friends of Hurd argue that he has been harshly treated by a board of directors scared by even a whiff of scandal.
Ellison said: "In losing Mark Hurd, the HP board failed to act in the best interests of HP's employees, shareholders, customers and partners."
The software billionaire added that Hurd had spent five years doing a "brilliant job" restoring HP to its "former greatness" after "a long list of failed CEOs".
Ellison took particular exception to the fact that HP's board went public with the unproven allegation of sexual harassment.
"Publishing known false sexual harassment claims is not good corporate governance; it's cowardly corporate governance," said Ellison, who pointed out that a slump in HP's shares has already cost investors more than $10bn.
He added that it was "not credible" to accuse Hurd of fiddling expenses: "Mark Hurd, like most other CEOs, does not fill out his own expense reports, so even if errors were made, Mark didn't make them."