Carly Fiorina's Record Renders Her Unelectable
Early this month we wanted to make sure people who don't live in California were aware of Carly Fiorina's actual record as a failed business executive and failed politician-- instead of just having to go by the tall tales she spins whenever she gets in front of a microphone. Yesterday Andrew Sorkin informed NYTimes readers that Fiorina's business record is anything but sterling. She claims she's not a politician, which is true if you define a politician as someone who wins elections. She ran and made her case to the voters... and lost, badly, and in a heavily Republican year.
“I come from a world outside of politics, where track records and accomplishments count.”In the new Donald Trump Republican Party, though, reality doesn't seem to count near as much as manufactured pseudo-reality and self-aggrandizing assertions. In that sense, outsourcing queen Carly Fiorina is a female version of Donald Trump, although not as willing to roll around in the mud with the moronic Fox/GOP base.
Those were the words of Carly Fiorina, a Republican candidate for president, earlier this year. Readers of the business pages know her as the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard.
...[I]t is curious to those of us who have reported on her business career that there has not been a greater focus in recent days on her “track records and accomplishments,” as she suggested she should be measured by.
Even more striking, Mrs. Fiorina, the only former female chief executive among the candidates, continues to promote her business experience on the trail, yet she was fired by Hewlett-Packard after the company’s stock dropped by half in 2005. She has long blamed her failings at running the technology giant on the bursting of the dot-com bubble and the deepening recession in Silicon Valley after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In an essay published late last week, Mrs. Fiorina also said she lost her job because of her maverick management style. “When you lead and when you challenge the status quo, you make enemies,” she wrote in the essay published on CNN’s website. “It’s why Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney and Mike Bloomberg have all been fired.”
While those four business icons all received pink slips at some point in their careers (as a young man, Mr. Disney was fired from a Missouri newspaper for lacking imagination), none presided over such a sharp decline in one of America’s great companies. “Experience can be a badge of honor or a badge of shame,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a senior associate dean for leadership studies at the Yale School of Management, who wrote a recent essay about Mrs. Fiorina’s travails. In an interview, he compared Mrs. Fiorina to the captain who caused the shipwreck of Carnival’s Costa Concordia in 2012. “He will never be trusted with a public leadership role. Captains of industry must also be accountable.”
In September of 2001, I remember sitting in a theater in midtown Manhattan, listening raptly as Mrs. Fiorina announced Hewlett-Packard’s merger with Compaq and boasted about the combined company’s prospects.
“Hang with us,” she said on that same day in a conference call with reporters. “It’s going to be a great party.”
The party never happened, but the hangover was brutal. Hewlett-Packard is still recovering from the ill-conceived merger nearly 15 years later, and recently decided to split the company up. There were some 30,000 layoffs. Its stock price plunged and badly lagged its competition.
But what about her management of the business operations itself, perhaps more relevant in considering how she might perform in the White House?
“When you manage in tough times, when you lead in tough times, sometimes tough calls are necessary, and yet we took that company from about $44 billion to almost $90 billion,” Mrs. Fiorina said to the Des Moines Register editorial board. “We took the growth rate from 2 percent to 9 percent.”
Here’s the problem: Those numbers she is referencing aren’t Hewlett-Packard’s profit. They are the company’s revenue. And if you make enough acquisitions-- especially one the size of Compaq-- you can inflate your revenue figures. You can also buy growth.
When a Washington Post columnist looked at her business record and suggested the numbers Mrs. Fiorina cited were misleading, her team attacked him in a point-by-point rebuttal, showing facts and figures from securities filings to back her assertions. The problem isn’t that the numbers aren’t accurate-- they are; it is that the company’s expansion was a function of an aggressive acquisition strategy.
The trick to real business success is increasing profitability. That’s where her explanation of her firing-- “I was fired in a boardroom brawl,” she says-- is only half right. It was a brawl, but the company was unquestionably damaged.
“I know a little bit about Carly Fiorina, having watched her almost destroy the company my grandfather founded,” Arianna Packard, the granddaughter of the Hewlett-Packard co-founder David Packard, wrote in a letter in 2010, when Mrs. Fiorina was a candidate in California for the United States Senate.
Even before she got to Hewlett-Packard, there were questions raised about her tenure as a senior executive at Lucent, a fast-growing telecom company that collapsed during the telecom crash in the early part of the last decade. (Lucent was later sold to Alcatel.) None of this disqualifies Mrs. Fiorina from the presidency. She has proved in recent years that she is a talented and thoughtful politician and has found ways to connect with voters on various issues. And who doesn’t like a comeback story?
But as the campaign goes on, Mrs. Fiorina will have difficulty arguing that her time as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard should be viewed as an asset, and not a liability.