Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina believes she should be President of the United States. And why not? Barak Obama was an unknown community organizer whose sole political accomplishment was to be elected an Illinois state senator before a speech given at the 2004 Democratic National Convention launched his swift rise to the Oval Office. Bill Clinton became Arkansas Attorney General only three years out of law school and Governor of the state after only six. He successfully took the White House after serving as governor. Even Abraham Lincoln, a little known mid-western lawyer, only served one term as Congressman before taking the presidential oath of office eleven years later.
Whoa—well maybe mentioning Abraham Lincoln in the same article as law-school dropout Carly Fiorina is a stretch. But let us face it. A candidate’s national political experience may have little to do with whether he or she will be a great U.S. president, or even a mediocre one.
So what is Fiorina offering in terms of presidential moxie? In ten years, from 1980 to 1990, she rose from management trainee to mid-level executive at AT&T (the old AT&T, not the re-branded Southwestern Bell). She labored on in this capacity for five years and may have ended her career in anonymity, but following the breakup of AT&T she became a senior executive of one of the pieces—Lucent (AT&T’s hardware business). She held on for four years at Lucent and then in a career defining coupe, landed the CEO job at HP, one of the two most successful information technology companies in the world.
In five tumultuous years at HP she fired tens of thousands of employees, cut swaths of complete organizational destruction in not just HP, but computer giant Compaq, which she purchased in 2001. The company’s profitability, market share, and stock price plunged. She was forced out in 2004, and other than charitable foundations, has not held any significant job in business since.
In retrospect, her tenure at HP was really not a surprise. During her meteoric corporate rise, Fiorina’s focus was numbers. In fourteen years she manufactured inorganic growth by either assisting in or directing the purchase or divestment of a number of businesses, massaging financials and playing a game of bonuses and statistics. And if the numbers did not support her narrative, she rewrote the narrative. She played the game well—she became an enormously wealthy woman, and to her credit she was at the forefront of a generation of women who shattered the glass-ceiling for corporate C-level positions.
Fiorina is the consummate corporate politician and professional manager. This is not a compliment. Although she received high marks for her charismatic style and polish, she cannot point to a single significant success in originating products or services that resulted in organic growth. In effect, she took charge of other people’s successes, and with that store of capital made herself a lot of money at the expense of customers, employees, and shareholders.
Should Fiorina be president? If she wins the 2016 election she would become the first female U.S. president, and the only true political outsider who never held political office. But these are poor excuses to vote a person into the presidency. No, after reflecting on Fiorina’s career, it is evident that a win for Carly Fiorina really just mean one thing: only appearances matter to the American people, and not acts. That would be a shame.