In 1999, a dysfunctional HP board committee, filled with its own poisoned politics, hired her with no CEO experience, nor interviews with the full board. Fired in 2005, after six years in office, several leading publications titled her one of the worst technology CEOs of all time. In fact, the stock popped 10% on the news of her firing and closed the day up 7%.
Arianna Packard, the granddaughter of HP’s founder, commented when discouraging voters from supporting Fiorina in her 2010 senatorial run, “I know a little bit about Carly Fiorina, having watched her almost destroy the company my grandfather founded.”
Sure, she doubled revenues—through a massive, ill-conceived, controversial acquisition of Compaq Computer in 2002—but Fiorina did nothing to increase profits over her five-year term, with the S&P 500 showing net income across enterprises concomitantly up 70%. Furthermore, shareholder wealth at HP was sliced 52% under her reign against the S&P, which was down only 15% in that bearish period. She modeled the old joke of “making it up in the volume.”
The lost shareholder wealth and lost strategic direction at HP are only part of Fiorina’s legacy. Also lost during her reign were 30,000 U.S. tech jobs, the company’s revered employee morale, and the egalitarian, humble HP way culture. A new defensive, finger-pointing style of leadership led to waves of firing. Dissent was equated with disloyalty as discovered by Walter Hewlett, a board member and son of HP’s co-founder, when he questioned Fiorina’s misguided Compaq acquisition strategy and refused to be bullied into a board statement of unanimous consent, suffering legal and personal threats.
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