Carly Fiorina

Former CEO of Hewlett Packard



When Carly Fiorina was hired as Hewlett-Packard's CEO, she was the first woman to take control of a Fortune 100 company. After dropping out of law school, she became an AT&T management trainee. She moved up the company ladder and became the first female officer in the Network Systems division. In 1998, she was put in charge of Lucent's Global Service Provider division. A year later, she was tapped as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. After the controversial merger with Compaq Computers didn’t meet expectations, Fiorina was forced to resign. She then became a consultant for Republican candidates. In 2010, Fiorina made a run for the U.S. Senate in California. She was defeated in that race, but she then set her sights on the White House. In 2015, Fiorina announced that she was running for the Republican nomination for president.

She's been named the most powerful woman in American business by Fortune magazine and in 1999 was named president/CEO of one of the world's most important technology companies, Hewlett-Packard.

Carly finally signed on as a management trainee at AT&T at age 25. Around this time, AT&T had reached a deal with the government to settle a sexual discrimination lawsuit. The terms of the agreement called for the company to hire more women for management positions. In the coming years, she would earn an MBA from the University of Maryland and a MS degree from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Interested in the developing field of network communications, Fiorina surprised her co-workers by joining the male-dominated Network Systems division. At age 35, she became the division's first female officer, and five years later was named head of North American sales. She combined an appreciation of new technologies with powerful sales instincts, which won the attention of top brass at AT&T. In 1996, the company decided to spin off its Western Electric and Bell Labs divisions into a new company. Carly was tagged to spearhead the effort. Under her guidance, the spin-off, dubbed Lucent, became one of the most successful IPOs (Initial Public Offerings) in U.S. history, raising $3 billion.

By 1998, when Fortune dubbed Carly Fiorina the most powerful woman in business, she was president of Lucent's Global Service Provider division, the company's core business unit. Fiorina found success meeting the rising demand for network technology from American businesses. Under her watch, the company's market share increased in every region for every product.

Some reports, however, indicate that Fiorina's accomplishments at Lucent may be overstated. A Fortune magazine claimed that the company implemented a number of questionable financial practices during her time there. For instance, a deal with PathNet managed by Fiorina involved loaning them small business money and giving them Lucent equipment at no cost. Writer Scott Woolley explained that "money from the loans began to appear on Lucent's income statement as new revenue while the dicey debt got stashed on its balance sheet as an allegedly solid asset." Harvard professor Rakesh Khurana said that "Lucent's success had more to do with loose credit terms and creative accounting than any reinvention of the company as the Second Coming of Cisco," according to the New York Times.

In the summer of 1999, Hewlett-Packard took note of Fiorina's exceptional ability to manage growth in the quickly changing technology field and tagged her to replace retiring president and CEO Lewis Platt. Fiorina achieved the notable distinction of being the first woman to take the lead at a Fortune 20 company. She also made a remarkable deal when making the switch from Lucent to HP. HP gave her $65 million in stock to join the company and leave behind a reported $85 million in Lucent options and stock. But those Lucent shares did not hold their value for long. The company began to unravel not long after Fiorina's departure.

Fiorina quickly became a highly visible CEO making several major changes at HP: she streamlined operations combining several different units into fewer, more manageable units. She shook up the sales staff with the mandate “shape up or ship out.” Fiorina also helped make HP a leader in charitable giving. She launched HP’s “Technology for Teaching” program and established programs in other countries to "help bridge the digital divide between technology empowered and technology-excluded communities."

However, Fiorina made a controversial move in the wake of the dotcom bubble bursting. On September 3, 2001, she announced HP's merger with Compaq Computers, a decision opposed by the HP founders’ sons Walter Hewlett and David Packard. A week later terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, and Fiorina was called on to provide her assistance as HP CEO. Michael Hayden, the director of the National Security Agency (NSA), asked Fiorina to provide the NSA with high-tech equipment needed to carry out the surveillance agency's work in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Fiorina re-routed a retail shipment of HP equipment to the NSA to accommodate this request.

The Compaq merger continued to place Fiorina's executive decisions in question. A year-and-a-half after the merger, Fiorina claimed victory announcing that HP was a cutting-edge company and industry leader in all business categories. However, business analysts observed that HP really hadn’t changed much. Eighty percent of profit still came from the printer division, morale was down and, in 2004, several top executives left the company.

In January 2005, the Hewlett-Packard board of directors met with Carly Fiorina to discuss the company’s performance. She rejected a proposed plan to transfer her authority to division heads and a month later she resigned as chair and CEO of HP. Her departure was widely covered in the news media with supporters and critics weighing in.

Related speakers

Monique Morrow

Former Chief Technology Officer and Evangelist of New Frontiers Engineering at Cisco (2012-2016). Visionary. Activist.

Alan Rosling

Former Executive Director of Tata Sons (2003-2008) Strategic advisor in India and China

Antonio Núñez López

Expert in communication and branding.

Aristóbulo de Juan

Aristóbulo de Juan

International Consultant in Banking Systems.
Former Senior Financial Advisor at the World Bank

Send this to a friend