Experiences with Carly Fiorina

Many years ago I worked at Hewlett Packard. I had the pleasures of meeting every single one of their CEO’s from Bill and Dave all the way through to
Carly Fiorina. They were all amazing individuals with very different personalities, skills and attitudes.

While I never had the chance to play chess with any of them; If I had I would have expected to lose quickly and dramatically against all of them… except Ms. Fiorina. I don’t think Chess is her game.

Let me explain.

When you play chess there are several things you need.
1. You need to understand the moves, how each piece moves and the objective of the game (to capture the other player’s king).

2. You need to be able to develop a strategy to allow you to capture your opponents king without them capturing your king.

3. You need to be able to think ahead, recognizing how the other player will act in response to your move and how to react to the moves they are making.

I suspect Ms. Fiorina would be excellent at steps 1 and 2, but have no idea how to do step 3.

My experience in watching her was that she was exceptional at building a strategy to achieve a goal, but absolutely terrible at making sure that all the people who worked for her followed her lead and did what was required to deliver the goal.

I saw her tell her management team exactly what she required from them. And then I saw her management team ignore her direction and do whatever they pleased. The results were messy to say the least.

What I didn’t see was her dealing with this direct disobedience. Either she wasn’t aware of it or she decided to ignore their lack of professional respect, either way the outcome was not of the highest quality of leadership.

I’ve read her book, and watched with interest her start into California politics. And by chance a few years ago I caught a speech she gave in Sydney while on a world tour with Bill Clinton. They just happened to have the event in the hotel I was staying in. And I’m hoping she has either learned some dramatic lessons over the past decade or quickly moves out of the Republican potentials for Presidential nomination.

I think that on a chess board she would have no idea how her opponent would react, and would be shocked that her pieces were quickly destroyed and her king captured. If she could purchase additional chess pieces and change the rules, different story, but that’s not how chess is played.

When she joined HP as CEO, I was excited, but within a year I had decided to leave the company I’d been at for a dozen years because what she was doing was just that awful. Many friends and people I respect stayed at HP, but to this day I cannot remember anyone saying a good word about her leadership.

Maybe my experiences with Carly are not the experiences of others, and maybe I just caught her on bad days. But it was a lot of really bad days.


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2 Replies to “Experiences with Carly Fiorina”

  1. You are a very generous man, despite the occasional rants! In this case, though, I think you’ve lost it completely.

    I’m not going to waste words on revisiting Ms. Fiorina’s time at other organisations before HP. Like you, I was on the receiving end of her HP ‘management’ era and (unlike you) my career was terminally blighted as a consequence.

    She reminds me a great deal of Obama: very good at style and presentation, EXTREMELY poor at strategy (as indeed you say). For an organisation that was nominally ‘in trouble’ before her tenure, it’s notable that the HP share price embarked on a nosedive when she was CEO that it has NEVER recovered from.

    For all practical purposes, although she didn’t start the process (her predecessor did that), she destroyed the company, breaking its corporate culture and largely eliminating much of its added value. The suicidally-stupid merger with Compaq was the most damaging thing by far.

    Compaq was a failing company, and the cleanest, simplest option would have been to take it on in the marketplace and beat it, fair and square. Instead… well never mind, suffice it to say that the two CEOs came away with tens (hundreds?) of millions in ‘bonuses’, and the greasy-pole climbers prospered in the ensuing turmoil, to the cost of some very good HP people and businesses who didn’t know how to play the beggar-thy-neighbour game internally.

    She never understood the essence of what made HP great (as it was then), so she had no idea what she was breaking, and being so well rewarded, might not even have cared either. She reminded me of a child dismantling an expensive clock to ‘see how it worked’. Not only did she learn nothing, the process also meant she had no clock either, as she certainly didn’t have the skills to reassemble it.

    So Obama is going, and the new incumbent will have the opportunity to repair the damage, possibly: to the economy and to the USA’s foreign relations, and to scale back the depth and breadth of state intervention in Americans’ daily lives. But in order to do that, he or she will have to have basic competency – to see what’s actually wrong, and which bits of the US administration are actually good and worthwhile. Because there really are some – it’s not all a disaster.

    But the thing that characterised Ms. Fiorina’s tenure at HP was a lack of understanding – of that brilliant corporate culture (the “HP Way”), of the strength-in-diversity and management empowerment, and the OK-to-fail and take-time-to-dream R+D and product development environment.

    She couldn’t see why HP had been successful in the past (I think she didn’t care, actually), so she didn’t see either what was important.

    I’m not an American, so I’ve no right to say who should be president, but I have an opinion, and the Idea of ‘Queen Carly” fair horrifies me.

    She’s pretty good at Powerpoint though.

    1. Simon, you make some good points, not sure i agree with your president obama thoughts. A president is a head of a democratic body, and the us model today is remonisent of the roman senate around the time of the fall of the empire, with personal powerbases and corruption leading much. Bush junior did so mich that was wrong and ill thought, that in relation pres obama is proving to be mich better, but that is all trmpered

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