Carly Fiorina’s business career began with an insanely fast rise to the top that propelled her to near-celebrity status. However, once she became CEO of Hewlett-Packard things went downhill from there, culminating in her ultimate dismissal. What happened?
Here’s what you need to know.
1. She Thought She Would Only Last Two Years at AT&T
Carly Fiorina started out in law school, but soon dropped out, knowing it wasn’t the right match for her. She received her MBA in 1980 and, at age 25, joined AT&T as a management trainee. Her job was to sell telephone services to federal agencies, Fortune reported. At the time, she didn’t even think she would last two years at the job. But she ended up surprising everyone, including herself.
2. Fiorina Rose the Ranks Until She Was Named the Most Powerful Woman in American Business
Fiorina rose quickly at AT&T. By the time she was 35, she was the first female officer of AT&T’s Network Systems division, Biography.com reported. By 40, she was head of North American sales. AT&T spun off its Bell Labs and Western Electric divisions into a new company named Lucent in 1996. She was put in charge of the effort and led Lucent to being the most successful IPO ever, raising $3 billion. By 1998, Fortune magazine had named her the Most Powerful Woman in American Business. while she was president of Lucent’s Global Service Provider division. Fortune said that her independence and innovative way of thinking were keys to her success. The article said that the only criticism made about her was that she was “too ambitious.”
3. She Was Named CEO of Hewlett-Packard And Went to Work Changing the Culture
Fiorina was recruited by HP to be the company’s new CEO in 1999, during the height of her success, Biography.com reported. The job was a difficult one from the start, taking place in the midst of the dotcom burst. After she was named CEO, she went to work changing the culture and shaking things up. She replaced profit-sharing with bonuses for company growth, slashed operating units from 83 to 12, and combined many back-office functions, CRN reported. Some felt these changes were too extreme. Employee satisfaction plummeted and she was even booed at company meetings at times. The Fiscal Times, however, later said that the changes she made allowed HP to survive and compete in the Internet age.
4. The Co-Founder’s Son Fought Her Over HP’s Merger With Compaq
One of the biggest changes Fiorina implemented was a merger with Compaq in 2001. Compaq was the second-largest provider of computers, right after Dell, at the time. She had to fight with the board for the merger, and even Walter Hewlett, the son of co-founder William Hewlett, The Wall Street Journal reported. Although she received a lot of criticism for the merger at the time, experts later on said it was a success and played a key role in HP’s continued growth.
5. She Was Forced to Resign in 2004 and Transitioned Into Politics
Fiorina’s battles at HP continued. Throughout her tenure, she had to lay off more and more employees. In 2001, she asked employees to take pay cuts or use vacation time to try to stop layoffs from occurring and save HP money. It wasn’t enough and by the time her tenure at HP ended, she had laid off 30,000 employees, The Guardian reported. In 2004, HP’s stock fell drastically. By early 2005, after discussing changes and shifting Fiorina’s power, the board decided to simply force her to resign as chair and CEO. She was given a $21 million severance package. After her resignation, she was named one of the worst American CEOs of all time and called the anti-Steve Jobs.
But Fiorina didn’t let all that stop her. She wrote a book, Tough Choices, in 2006 and shared what had happened at HP and in her personal life. She was named to several corporate boards and was a commentator for Fox. She entered politics in 2008 as a consultant for John McCain. She ran for Senate in 2010 but lost, however she never stopped advocating for the political causes she believed in, Biography.com reported.