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Don't Call HP's Interim CEO a 'Mop-Up Girl'

It's always the quiet ones, isn't it? Hewlett Packard's Mark Hurd even looks like last year's bad boy, former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. Or maybe it's just their "oh, damn" expressions. At any rate, HP chief financial officer Cathie Lesjack now gets to step in and steady the ship while the HP board ramps up its search for a replacement CEO.

It's tempting to chalk this up to one more example of women cleaning up messes left by men on Wall Street, investment banking and politics. The notion that women have finally entered executive ranks only to be handed mops is capturing the popular imagination, even meriting a cameo on The Daily Show.

But don't saddle Lesjack with a bucket and broom quite yet. This latest debacle is not about gender -- it's about why HP's leadership culture fosters as many plot twists as acquisitions, says David Gebler, president of The Skout Group, a Boston ethics consultancy. Gebler points out that Hurd was brought in as a no-nonsense straight shooter to tidy up after Hurricane Carly (Fiorina). "It's a sign of equality that they can get incompetent women or incompetent men," he says of the board.

What Lesjack has that both Fiorina and Hurd lacked is 24 years at HP -- the kind of experience that brings credibility and deep connections. She's the right person to restore calm and to keep the focus on operations during the CEO search. It's also worth noting that HP has consistently had more women on its board and in its executive ranks than most technology companies. The fact that Lesjack is a she is evidence that there's plenty right about the HP way, C-suite shenanigans notwithstanding.

Morguefile image by Kahle