Carly Fiorina’s 2016 presidential campaign has arrived to the point of media scrutiny. This will mean for Ms. Fiorina both superficial and incomplete media coverage, and equally superficial judgments by fickle media consumers.
As many presidential candidates discovered who had arrived at the point Fiorina has come to, from this point on, likely most of the media will scrutinize her as much for her value in their ratings as for their self-declared responsibility to “inform the public” on who Fiorina is and, thus, how effectively she could perform as president. Herman Cain wrote an article recently on that topic, reflecting on his own unique and similar experiences.
Carly Fiorina’s qualifications are certainly unique. After dabbling shortly with law school, then taking some time to think about her career choices, she started out in sales with AT&T. From there, she enjoyed brilliant success as she took over multiple organizations with AT&T. In the mid 1990s, she was given executive charge to spin off Bell and Western Electric Labs from AT&T into a separate company. The resulting IPO was the most successful public launching in U.S. history at $3 billion. By 1998, Fortune Magazine named her the most powerful woman in American business, known for being able to hold employees accountable and get them to focus on strategically viable initiatives in large numbers.
In 1999, Hewlett-Packard offered her the lead executive position of HP. She remained in that position until 2005, when the Board of Directors requested that she disburse her authority to division heads. Fiorina disagreed and shortly resigned afterwards. During her nearly 6 years over HP, the company remained profitable each year, with a high of $3.7 billion in net profit in 2000 to a low of $408 million in 2001. She decided to merge HP with the computer maker Compaq in 2001, one week before the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City. The merger was successful, but not without some pain and some controversy expressed by members of the HP Board.
If you’re fortunate, this is as much as you can expect the media to tell you.
What they won’t tell you is what those of us who are turnaround specialists, especially those of us who were in her industry during that time, know.
- Every IT company during that period achieved phenomenal growth up to year 2000, then began to tank in 2001 as the dot com bubble burst. MCI’s stock went down to .01 per share before the company went bankrupt. AT&T’s stock options for long-term employees became literally worthless as the stock went from $80 to $40 down to less than $10 per share.
- Fiorina walked into HP during the final year of a growth era, inheriting what ended up being a turnaround situation.
- Her own Board of Directors apparently lacked the capability to run the company themselves, with some, notably Walter Hewlett and David Packard, sons of the company’s founders, openly criticizing her decisions in 2001, but making no alternative decisions. They kept Fiorina in her position until 2005.
- Other board members with turnaround experience, notably venture capitalist Tom Perkins and Patricia Dunn, who was appointed to temporarily replace Fiorina in February 2005, praised her for her leadership. Perkins noted that
“Some board members wanted to micro-manage the company, hand picking friends and allies to run divisions. This is no way to run a global company and Carly had the strength of character and courage of conviction to stand up to it and ultimately she lost her job because of it.”
“Carly was brought in to catalyze a transformation of HP. She did that in a remarkable fashion.”
Carly Fiorina’s HP experience, at least from the perspective of this writer who has made his living turning around companies for several decades, was perhaps one of her greatest successes in a business career marked by outstanding successes.
If the United States needs to be “turned around”, Fiorina seems to have developed the skill set to do so. Whether the United States media decides to torpedo her campaign for reasons stated above remains to be seen.