October 9, 2006 12:56 PM PDT
Newsmaker: Fiorina says board let emotion trump reasonSee all Newsmakers
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In terms of the battle, is there anything, looking back, that you'd do differently, or did things go about as well as they could go?
Fiorina: Change always is resisted. When you have the kind of situation that we were dealing with--an inconic company, mythic founders, fear of what such a fundamental change would mean to the Valley and the company, the context of a very negative environment in which people were distrustful and pessimistic--of course there is going to be a battle. Of course it is going to be intense. I am proud that we fought that battle with honor. I am proud that we made the tough choice. And I am proud, now, to see Hewlett-Packard as the leader it should be because of those roads.
HP, especially prior to the leak scandal breaking, had been getting a lot of credit for its turnaround. Not all of that credit was being given in your direction. How much of the credit for HP's turnaround do you think you deserve?
Fiorina: First, it's not a turnaround. A company doesn't turn around in 12 months, it's not the nature of the beast. Hewlett-Packard is a company that has been transformed from where it was in 1999 to where it stands today. A large part of that transformation occurred on my watch.
I certainly do not deserve all the credit for what has happenned. But I do deserve my fair share.
How much of that work, and of that effort, do you think has been put in jeopardy by the leak scandal?
I think one of the reasons that the current events are very sad is because they distract employees. They impact the reputation of the company, and there is a board and management team that now have a substantial set of issues to deal with that is not about the performance of the company in the marketplace. It is about the ethics and the character of the company.
Do you see HP being able to handle it as a bump in the road, or do you think this is going to be a pretty significant negative event?
Fiorina: All companies are sometimes faced with issues of ethics, character, how things get done. I talk in my book a lot, as I did while I was at HP, that how things get done is as important as what gets done. When issues around character and conduct occur, real conversations have to take place about it. You can't brush it under the carpet. You can't pretend it didn't happen.
In the book, Michael Capellas comes in for a fair bit of criticism. I think that may surprise some people. Outwardly, it seemed like happy merger partners, complementary strengths. What was going on?
Fiorina: When you decide to write an authentic book about business, which was my goal, I decided I had to talk about my experiences as they really occurred and people as they really behaved. You can't walk away from it just because people happen to be well-known.
As I point out, early on in my career, I do not believe people should be abused by others in the business world. It's not consistent with treating people with respect and dignity. When that behavior becomes counterproductive, that's another tough choice that has to be made.
So the key issue--was it the way he was treating you or the way he was treating other employees?
Fiorina: I'm pretty tough, in the sense that how people treat me, as I think I illustrated in the book. Early on in my career, there was this lawyer who abused everyone around him, including me. He could yell and scream at me all day long.
That's not what finally caused me to take action. It was when he yelled and screamed at others who had no power. When someone in a position of power abuses those who are powerless, it has a double impact. I can stand up for myself. Others can't always.
When you look at the business world and gender in particular, what are the things you see that need to change in order to make things more equitable?
Fiorina: I think I have strived my whole career to play by the same rules. I think everyone should have an opportunity to play by the same rules. I don't believe that women should be given special treatment or an easier ride. I do believe they should be given the same treatment and judged by the same standards. And we still do not yet have a color-blind or a gender-blind world, and certainly, it's not yet the case in business.
How much of the problem is an early-education problem versus the way business works? Do we have enough women in science and business and technology?
Fiorina: If you just looked at the statistics, clearly, no. I think we are engaged in an evolutionary process, and it takes time, but maybe one of the conversations that this book motivates, I hope, is about business and how it operates.
I hope it will motivate a conversation about character. I hope it will motivate a conversation perhaps about board governance. I hope it will motivate a conversation around, "Why is it that we characterize and caricature women differently than men, and why is it that they play by different rules?"
In terms of the book, what is it most that you hope people will take away from it?
Fiorina: I hope they will say, if they are in business, "Gee, that is what it is really like." I hope people will get an appreciation for both the difficulty of change and the necessity of change. I hope people will step back and think about the importance of character and ethics. And I hope they will come to know me not simply as a caricature but as a person.
It sounds like the weeks after you left HP were particularly hard in that respect.
Fiorina: It was a shock, what happened. It happened very abruptly. It happened without conversation or explanation. I got beat up pretty bad out in the public space for many weeks thereafter. That's not a pleasant experience. Yeah, it was a tough time.
Do you think you are different, and if so, how, as a result of having gone through that experience?
Fiorina: I hope I am not different. I hope I am still a very optimistic person. I had things that I believed about human nature, both in its best form and its worst form, reinforced for me.
I think that in many ways, as I try and say in the epilogue, all the things that I have believed all my life and the toughest choices that I had to make at HP--those things have been validated and reconfirmed for me in the last 18 months. I said at the close of the book what I believe. I feel blessed. In many ways, this period of time for me has been a gift.
You mentioned that you haven't settled on what that next challenge is, but are you feeling pretty close to ready? Would you expect, in the next year or so, to be doing something new and different full-time?
Fiorina: I have been doing lots of new and different things for the last 18 months, and I feel pretty busy. I will make the decision when it is timely, and I think I will know when that is. And yes, I think it is probably sooner rather than later.
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