Hewlett-Packard has uncovered evidence that former CEO Mark Hurd knew of Jodie Fisher as early as 2005, two full years before HP hired her to assist him at top-level meetings with customers.
The information adds a new detail to the tangled mystery of how Fisher, a sometime B-movie actress and reality-TV contestant, came to have such close interactions with one of the most powerful CEOs in the world. It’s either a whopper of a coincidence—or yet another surprising twist in a saga already full of them.
HP (hpq) has retained a lawyer who is probing this development.
Earlier accounts, including one published in Fortune [See “What really happened between HP ex-CEO Mark Hurd and Jodie Fisher?], described Fisher as having been discovered by Caprice Fimbres McIlvaine, a top assistant to Hurd, in 2007. McIlvaine told company investigators that she became aware of Fisher by watching the reality TV show “Age of Love,” in which Fisher was a contestant. Fisher, by this account, was then hired as a contractor after two interviews with then-CEO Hurd. A publicist for Fisher subsequently told Fortune that at least two other contestants were considered for the HP position but that only Fisher was interviewed.
According to multiple sources, in 2005 Hurd contacted an executive in HP’s brand marketing group and inquired whether the company’s ad agencies were aware of Fisher, who had acted in TV commercials. Gary Elliott, the marketing executive Hurd queried, followed up with top contacts at HP’s two agencies at the time, Goodby Silverstein and Publicis. After some back and forth, Elliott ascertained that Fisher hadn’t been chosen for any roles. He then relayed that message to Hurd, who appears to have taken no further action at the time.
No evidence has emerged as to whether Hurd had any contact with Fisher, or sought any, until she became an HP contractor in 2007. Glenn Bunting, a spokesman for Hurd, declined to comment on any aspect of the 2005 inquiry other than to say: “Mark never met or had any contact with Jodie Fisher prior to August 2007.” Gloria Allred, Fisher’s lawyer, declined to comment.
Does this mean Fisher’s hiring might not have been the serendipitous result of McIlvaine’s TV viewing habits? It’s impossible to tell at this point. It’s also unclear if investigators specifically asked Hurd if he knew of Fisher before 2007.
Hurd resigned as CEO of HP on Aug. 5 following an investigation by the company’s board of directors into allegations by Fisher that Hurd had sexually harassed her. The board said it found no violations of HP’s harassment policy, but it concluded that Hurd had violated the company’s code of conduct for the way his meals with Fisher, including on non-business occasions, were expensed. The board also investigated, but never commented on, Fisher’s allegation that Hurd divulged to her that HP was buying EDS. This latter assertion, also denied by Hurd, reportedly is an element of an ongoing investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission that has generated news headlines this week.
The case has received intense attention, including the extensive Fortune feature last month. Speculation swirled for months as to why the board forced out Hurd and whether a transgression—such as an inappropriate relationship by the married CEO—had caused the board to lose faith in its successful leader. Fortune’s account and others came to the less dramatic conclusion that relations between Hurd and some board members soured. Those directors believed Hurd had not been candid in his initial response to their questions about his interactions with Fisher.
The new revelations are certain to cause fresh headaches for Hurd, who is now co-president of software and hardware maker Oracle (orcl), which simultaneously is an important HP partner and bitter rival.
HP is taking seriously the matter of when and how Hurd knew Fisher. It has retained Samuel Liversidge, a litigation lawyer with Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, to investigate the matter. Reached at his office in Los Angeles Monday afternoon, Liversidge said he couldn’t speak until he consulted with his client. On Tuesday he referred questions to HP, which declined comment. As for McIlvaine, who resigned shortly after Hurd, she hasn’t once commented publicly about what happened at HP and didn’t respond this week to a request for an interview. However, in recent weeks she has told others that she sticks to her version of what happened.
UPDATED: On Dec. 27, Allred sent a letter to Fortune replying to this article. The note reads, in full: “My client, Jodie Fisher, confirms that she never met and never heard of Mark Hurd before August 2007.”