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  Carly's Choice
Sally C. Pipes 11/22/06

Tough Choices, a new memoir by Carly Fiorina, contains some fascinating revelations and good advice. It also confirms the observations the Contrarian made when Hewlett-Packard fired Carly last year.

"The glass ceiling doesn't exist," she says in her new book. "I was trying to tell women that although there are plenty of obstacles and prejudices, there isn't some invisible barrier that prevents them from achieving their dreams." Interestingly enough, Carly's own dreams did not center on becoming boss of the world's second-largest computer company. Neither did her preparation.

Sally C. Pipes
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

Sally C. Pipes is President and CEO, Pacific Research Institute [go to Pipes index]

At Stanford she earned a degree in medieval history and philosophy. She "didn't care for law school at UCLA," and dropped out. She wrote a masters thesis on the lack of emphasis on competitive skills and character in education. By her own admission, Carly Fiorina had "no knowledge of business until after college."

At age 30, while working for AT&T, it occurred to her, for the first time, that "my gender alone could deny me the presumption of competence." It wasn't just gender, however. "Because I was a reasonably attractive woman, some people assumed I wasn't capable." She was indeed capable, but she learned that "title and position are not necessarily related to character and capability." That’s a valuable lesson for anybody, not just those who wind up in large and rather bureaucratic companies.

 In the same vein, Carly writes, "leadership has nothing to do with title or position. Leadership is about making a positive difference for and with others . . . anyone can lead from anywhere at any time."

Carly also shares what she calls the best career advice she ever had: "Don't think about the next job; focus on doing the very best you can with the job you have. Learn everything from everyone you can. Focus on the possibilities of each job, not the limitations. Look for the people who will take a chance on you." Carly herself looked for such people, and she found them.

She moved on to Lucent Technologies, a place she says she loved, but which might make even the best-prepared women think twice about a career in big business. The two-tiered management structure featured two chief operating officers, a chief financial officer and executive vice president, plus a management committee composed of 11 presidents and two COOs. There was also an operations committee. The two committees met once a month but "weren't really sure who was supposed to do what." Carly made some changes and became a big-time corporate player.

When Hewlett-Packard was looking for a new chief executive, Carly Fiorina was the only candidate without direct experience in the computer business. She got the job anyway, the first female CEO of a Fortune 20 company, confirming her belief that there is no glass ceiling. She told her husband that "this is going to be a high-wire act without a net."

Fortune named her the most powerful woman in business and Carly Fiorina became a celebrity. She didn't like it at the time but Tough Choices would indicate she's now okay with celebrity status, if not her former colleagues. One can understand why she got tagged "Chainsaw Carly." She accuses more than a few men of incompetence and character lapses. Readers will not get the men's side of it and the corporate battles, described here in detail, will probably be of most interest to business writers.

Business is about the bottom line. On Carly's watch HP's stock price failed to thrive, leading the company's board to let her go last year. That revived the tired feminist claptrap about a "gender gap" and "glass ceiling," both of which are refuted by the career of Carly Fiorina. She also proved, as we observed, that there is no glass floor either. As this book confirms, Carly achieved a high post and lost it after being held to the same performance standards that lift and sink men.

"I believe the truth is always the best answer, whatever the consequences," Carly writes. There is more to the story, however, than readers will learn from Tough Choices.  They do learn that after her firing, HP stock began to climb. They also learn that HP paid a $3.5 million bonus to interim CEO Bob Wayman. They won't learn about HP's termination package for Carly Fiorina, which the author conveniently fails to mention. The package came to $22.3 million, including $50,000 for legal, financial, and career counseling, technical support for three months, and access to a secretary for six months. The severance calculations do not include her annual pension of $200,000.

So there was a safety net for Carly's high-wire act after all, and a pretty comfy one at that. Perhaps she fails to mention it because it made her next move something of a no-brainer. Though pressed with job offers, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard now avoids the corporate world. She prefers to watch the sunset, go shopping, hang out with family, visit the gym, and arrange bouquets of flowers.

Some days she has, "the same giddy feeling I had when I quit law school . . . My life is my own. I can do what I choose."

Tough choice. CRO

copyright 2006 Pacific Research Institute




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