Fired HP CEO lowers profile

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Toppled from her perch as one of Silicon Valley's most powerful women a little over a year ago, Carleton S. "Carly" Fiorina has put together a new life that retains some of the trappings, if not the influence, of an elite corporate insider.

Since Hewlett-Packard's board showed her the door on Feb. 8, 2005, the ousted chief executive has been crisscrossing the globe - and commanding big bucks - speaking about how to be a good leader.

In lots of little ways, Fiorina's past year has been about trading places. Her glory may be fading on the West Coast, but rising on the East Coast.

HP removed her portrait from the lobby of its headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. But the University of Maryland - where Fiorina earned her master's in business administration - hung one up in its Alumni Hall of Fame in College Park.

While she and her husband still own a Tudor-style mansion on a 2.63-acre lot in Los Altos Hills, Calif., they bought a Georgetown condo in Washington for $3.6 million in May.

And instead of leading Silicon Valley's noted hardware company from the chief executive's seat, Fiorina is serving on the board of directors of Cybertrust, a privately held information security firm in Herndon, Va., and Steve Case's Revolution Health Group, a District of Columbia venture that finances companies offering patients more choice in health care services.

Slowly, she's been admitting some mistakes she made while at the helm of HP. But not many.

And she remains resolute in her public speeches that the biggest and most bitterly fought decision of her HP tenure - to merge the company with Compaq Computer Corp. - has proved a success.

"I would do the merger all over again," Fiorina told more than 600 people who packed a Los Angeles ballroom to hear her October keynote address at the Internet Telephony Conference and Expo. "I think the merger has been a resounding success."

Although Fiorina, 51, has traveled the international corporate speaker circuit since she left HP, she's kept a low profile and shunned media attention.

Speculation was once rife that she would take a high-profile government or public service post. For a while she was rumored to be a candidate to head the World Bank, but that job went to Paul D. Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary. Since then she's settled into the life of a former corporate executive in demand for convention keynotes.

Her comments surface sporadically from reports around the world of her occasionally frank speeches.

After giving a speech in October in Singapore on the essentials of leadership, Fiorina told the audience that she underestimated some people and overestimated others at HP, according to reports in two local newspapers. She also said she had not prepared people for the magnitude of the problems associated with the Compaq merger that was completed in 2002.

Rob Enderle, an industry marketing consultant, said Fiorina's key flaw was misjudging people. She erroneously believed in the abilities of some people she picked as lieutenants but blew off powerful people such as Walter B. Hewlett, the son of an HP co-founder who waged a publicly messy proxy battle against the merger.

She also failed to build a solid group of supporters at HP. "She thought she could dictate loyalty," Enderle said. "She didn't have to build it."

But Fiorina isn't staying home to pout in her gated Los Altos Hills home. She'll be jetting off - as was her style while still CEO - to speak again about leadership at the Global Business Forum conferences being held in Australia and New Zealand, starting Wednesday.

She'll be hobnobbing with other wealthy and well-known former chief executives speaking at the conferences: Disney's Michael D. Eisner, ASIMCO Technologies Ltd. founder John F. "Jack" Perkowski and President Bill Clinton.

Conference organizers will pay more than $50,000 for her hour-long leadership talk and question-and-answer session.

That puts her in roughly the same league as Donald J. Trump, NFL Hall of Fame lineman Howie Long and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. They are among the two dozen speechmakers available through the Washington Speakers Bureau for at least $40,000 a pop.

Enderle, the industry marketing consultant, thinks Fiorina's new focus as corporate board member makes better use of her talents.

"She has amazing vision," Enderle said. As HP's CEO, "her problem was she was not operationally oriented." But he added, "On a board, she could be a relatively good asset."

Fiorina also is an impressive speaker, one of the few who rivals Apple Computer's Steven P. Jobs, Enderle said. And people will come to see the first woman to run one of the largest 20 U.S. companies, even if she did disappear from Fortune's list of 50 most powerful women in 2005.

Rich Tehrani, president of Technology Marketing Corp. and the man who snagged Fiorina to speak at the Internet conference last fall, said she seemed unpretentious and approachable when he called to arrange the appearance.

"She wanted to make sure we didn't call her the most powerful woman in the world," Tehrani said. "She seemed beyond humble. She's put on this pedestal by so many people, and yet is more humble than the person sitting next to you."

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