Mark Hurd recently resigned as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, but that is not news anymore. Nor is it really news that he resigned due to the submission of expense reports supposedly used to quiet a female contractor who accused Hurd of sexual harassment. The real news is the $40m severance package that Hurd will receive for his resignation. Under Hurd's tenure, he stressed the importance of implementing a stronger business code of ethics and got rid of anyone that did not follow that code. Usually, those people were asked to leave and given no severance. So why does Hurd get a large severance package for breaking those same rules? Because CEOs are playing in a different game than everyone else. We see it with the size of the compensation packages, we see it in the size of the severance packages and we see it in the reckless disregard that some CEOs have for the rules that we are all supposed to follow.
HP under Hurd saw great success over the past five years so it is not surprising that the rules for him are different. I have no problem with CEOs being paid ridiculously high wages because of the pressure they are under and the higher standard we hold them to, but to blatantly treat them differently when they do wrong does not send the right message to the business community or those that look up to these leaders. The message that money can overcome any wrongdoing will send us down another slippery path that leads into the ethical abyss. This is not the best strategy for an organization that is primed for success in a very competitive marketplace.