Hewlett-Packard: Sailing Into Big News

To research a book about Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tom Perkins, and the 287-foot modern clipper ship he'd just launched, I headed off for the superyacht's maiden voyage across the Mediterranean. I hardly expected the trip to produce one of the biggest business stories of the year.

One morning aboard the Maltese Falcon, over croissants and cappuccino, Perkins revealed off the record why he'd resigned from the Hewlett-Packard board a month earlier. He explained in detail (and showed me documents) that Patricia Dunn--then chairman--had authorized private investigators to spy on phone records of her own directors. Dunn wanted to know who was leaking details of boardroom discussions to the media. In addition to being a great drama between two strong-willed individuals, the story raised important questions about privacy expectations and corporate ethics. It also suggested possible lawbreaking--and indeed Dunn was eventually indicted by the state of California.

Just after Labor Day, Perkins advised me that the SEC was involved and that public filings were imminent. Sailing across the Med at 15 knots, on the largest private sailboat ever built, was great. But, journalistically speaking, it also turned out to be a pretty good trip.