Fiorina says she feels justified

The Baltimore Sun

She was seen as both visionary and villain; corporate savior and spoiler.

But five years after engineering the merger of Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp., Carly Fiorina says it's obvious she was right all along.

In a telephone interview from Silicon Valley in California, where she still makes her home, Fiorina said she's not surprised HP is doing well today, and that archrival Dell Inc. is having problems.

"The success of the company today is exactly what we predicted and expected," she said. "The merger was clearly the right move."

The 15,000 layoffs and other pain caused by the deal was worth it for HP, Fiorina said, and she continues to insist that her firing in 2005 had more to do with corporate politics than her performance.

The Austin, Texas, native, who earned a master of business administration degree from the University of Maryland, was greeted with accolades when she came to HP in 1999. She quickly became known for her strategic vision and her status as the most powerful businesswoman of the time.

But after alienating both employees and heirs of HP's founders in her unflinching push for the contentious Compaq merger and after subsequently missing profit projections, Fiorina was fired in 2005.

In the interview Friday, Fiorina, now 52, made it clear she thinks she deserves more credit for HP's success.

While acknowledging that current HP Chief Executive Officer Mark V. Hurd is doing a good job, Fiorina said he had a good foundation to work from when he was hired to replace her in 2005.

Even though HP's board said it fired her for not executing well, "I executed ... the team executed extraordinarily well," Fiorina said.

"We said we could deliver $2.5 billion worth of cost savings in 2.5 years, and we delivered $3.5 billion in a year and a half," she said. "Every business was making money by the time I left.

"That's execution," she added.

Fiorina repeated allegations she made in her recent book, Tough Choices, that her ouster was the result of personal grudges and politics among HP's board of directors.

"My dismissal had everything to do with rivalries and poor governance in the boardroom, and nothing to do with execution," she said.

Asked what she thought about scandal that enveloped HP's board of directors this year after revelations that some members paid detectives to spy on their peers and on journalists, Fiorina said she wasn't surprised.

"What happened in the boardroom is very unfortunate, even though it was somewhat predictable," she said.

Similarly, Dell's problems and HP's surpassing Dell as the No. 1 PC company and IBM as the No. 1 technology company in revenues also was predictable, according to Fiorina. Shortly after the merger, it was clear HP's customer satisfaction and innovation rates were growing, while Dell's were declining, she said.

"The merger gave HP the opportunity to compete against both Dell's distribution system and its cost structure," she said. "And while Dell stood still, HP passed them by."

Fiorina said while she misses the people of HP, she doesn't miss the job. That's partly because she's out of the public limelight now, but also because she took a $21 million severance package when she left.

In another recent book about HP, Bill & Dave, author Michael Malone writes that employees cheered her departure and jeered her giant severance package - until they decided it was worth it to see her gone.

Fiorina said she hasn't read that HP book and won't.

"I will tell you factually that is not true," she said. "There are lots of things written about HP and me that are just not fact, it's fiction."

For now, Fiorina said she's enjoying working with a number of nonprofits such as the Initiative for Global Development, a network of former and current business executives working to reduce poverty.

"Frankly, this life is so interesting and varied that I haven't wanted to go back to a single full-time job," she said.

Active in the Republican Party and often rumored to be considering a run for office, Fiorina said it's not in her plans.

But, she added, "never say never."

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