Why I Still Think Fiorina Was a Terrible CEO
She can diss me all she wants on live TV, but personal attacks won’t take her from colossal business failure to leader of the free world.By Jeffrey Sonnenfeld
September 20, 2015
Here are the facts: In the five years that Fiorina was at Hewlett Packard, the company lost over half its value. It’s true that many tech companies had trouble during this period of the Internet bubble collapse, some falling in value as much as 27 percent; but HP under Fiorina fell 55 percent. During those years, stocks in companies like Apple and Dell rose. Google went public, and Facebook was launched. The S&P 500 yardstick on major U.S. firms showed only a 7 percent drop. Plenty good was happening in U.S. industry and in technology.
1. She refuses to learn from failure. Properly mastered, failure is a badge of honor for heroic leadership. People like Steve Jobs, Martha Stewart, Vanguard founder Jack Bogle, Anne Mulcahy of Xerox and Ellen Kullman of DuPont have all faced crushing adversity an rebounded from it. Walt Disney, Henry Ford and four U.S. presidents—Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Jefferson and William McKinley—all suffered bankruptcies. The difference between these people and Fiorina is that they all acknowledged their failures and learned from them, providing us with inspiring models of resilience. Fiorina thinks she can sweep obvious public facts of failure under the carpet. But what she doesn’t see is that talking about failure makes you stronger; hiding it makes you weaker. Fiorina’s denials inspire no one.
2. She plays fast and loose with highly misleading metrics, changing the goal posts by manipulating peer comparisons. Fiorina brags that she doubled revenues—but she cut value in half. She talks about doubling employment at HP when all she did was combine the employment of two huge firms—and then lay off 30,000 employees. She presents her story as rags to riches saga, from secretary to CEO, when in fact she is the daughter of a Duke University Law School dean and a federal Appeals Court judge. She just worked for a few months as a receptionist after dropping out of UCLA law school.
3. She makes irresponsible decisions. At HP, Fiorina abruptly pivoted from a strategy of chasing IT services to a splashier, but less sound strategy of ramping up in device manufacturing. While her predecessor, revered HP CEO Lew Platt, traveled coach in commercial planes, she demanded the company buy her a Gulfstream IV. More recently, her service on the Taiwan Semiconductor board indicates continued irresponsibility. Financial disclosures at the time Fiorina left the board in 2009 show that she attended just 17 percent of the company’s board meetings.
(Full story here.)