Over the past 24 hours, rumors have been mounting that Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and the ‘Victory Chairperson’ of John McCain’s Presidential campaign, will be McCain’s pick for the Vice Presidential slot on his ticket.
This is fantastically awful if it turns out to be true for one very simple reason: Carly Fiorina is an incompetent business person and brings no other qualifications to the table. Her tenure at HP was marked by one of the most ill-conceived moves in in HP’s history with the multi-billion dollar acquisition of Compaq.
Despite the usual rah-rah statements about creating great synergies, HP’s acquisition of Compaq did not end well for the American tech giant. As Kevin Werbach pointed out in the linked article for Wharton:
Critics of the merger have said that the merger was like tying two stones together and believing they would float. The merger didn't solve HP's problems; it just added Compaq's problems to its own.
Along the same lines, Michael Useem states:
To sum up, Fiorina scored high on leadership style, but she failed to execute strategy.
After all, what America needs after eight years of cowboy diplomacy, brush clearing and decisiveness is another leader who makes up for lackluster ideas and wrongheadedness is managerial flair.
Admittedly, Carly Fiorina became the CEO at what turned into the biggest recent downturn in the American tech economy, but even so, HP still managed to underperform every index and just about every tech stock you can think of during her six year tenure. Carly’s Hewlett-Packard even underperformed such market laggards as Microsoft. About the only major tech company that performed worse than HP over her tenure was Sun Microsystems, which would be a great topic in its own right.
I’ve seen some recent claims that attempt to vindicate Carly’s strategy in the wake of HP’s recently announced acquisition of EDS, a multi-billion dollar services company, but simply wishing this to be true does not make it so. Take, for example, this article on CNET in Australia:
HP's recent ascent is in part a vindication for former chief executive Carly Fiorina, architect of the 2001 merger with Compaq that caused internal schisms and eventually led to her ousting. In hindsight, that deal was what gave HP the scale, breadth of assets, and the cultural jolt that it needed to fight back.
Stephen Ellis, the author, makes no attempt to prove his claims. Instead he merely asserts them into being at the very end of his article.
If you go look on the internets for discussions about Carly Fiorina’s legacy, you’re going to find a pretty one-sided set of arguments that can be summed up as simply as ‘she destroyed HP.’ Mike Malone, author of Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World’s Greatest Company, offers up several choice examples:
[Carly] took a company that was one of the most innovative of all time...and turned it into a top-down company that was trying to profit off the PC market — an aging business that was past its twilight. Where's the cutting edge in that? There are any number of corporations out there looking for a top-notch new CEO or chairman. Where are the job offers for the once "most powerful woman in American business?" [She] now enjoys the title (not easy to get) of the worst CEO in Valley history. And for real Carly-hatred, you need only visit a local HP division and ask any survivor of her time with the company. Ask them what they thought of Carly Fiorina, and then you'll have your answer.
Want an example of what HP employees think about Carly? Here’s a great one from a recent article on Slate:
My sister worked closely with Carly at HP. She says if Carly is the VP on McCain's ticket, you can count on the votes of almost 100 thousand HP employees...in the Obama column.
Take it for what it is: an anonymous comment on the web. Nevertheless, it’s part of a much wider pattern repudiating her supposed competency, leadership and vision.
Way to pick a real winner, John.