You only have to go back 15 years to find a Throwback Thursday photo that captured watershed change for the HP 3000's creators. Carly Fiorina was named as HP's sixth CEO on a Monday in July, the start of the finale for a company's business way which created Hewlett-Packard-designed products as its biggest business.
Fiorina was all of 44 years old when she took a chair that had always been held by men over the first 60 years of HP's existence. In a BusinessWeek story that marked her ascent, the woman who'd become known only as Carly explained that she'd talked Dick Hackborn into staying on HP's board of directors. Telling readers that "Carly Fiorina has a silver tongue and an iron will," reporter Peter Burrows relayed Carly's own admission of feminine business power. The CEO-to-be said she was interviewed in a Chicago airport club restaurant.
"You can't tell me there's a better person for the job,'' she told Hackborn as the Gaslight's waitresses, clad in skimpy uniforms and fishnet stockings, made their rounds. Over the course of three hours, Hackborn agreed [to helm the board]. ''And no, I did not put on fishnet stockings,'' Fiorina says with a laugh. ''Don't even go there.''
At the time of her ascent, the business media had pegged Carly as the most powerful woman in business, with Oprah running number 2. “She is quite simply the ideal candidate to leverage HP’s core strengths in the rapidly changing information-systems industry and to lead this great company well into the new millennium,” said board member Sam Ginn, who led the search committee. It was a move that would lead the staid company into new eras of panache.
HP’s board said it was pushing for the company’s first outside CEO to lead the company in its new e-services push. Heading up AT&T spinoff Lucent’s $20 billion Global Service Provider division, Fiorina was named America’s Most Powerful Businesswoman in 1998 by Fortune magazine. Her selfies with pop stars came later.
Within one year of Fiorina's ouster, Burrows had written Backfire, his history of the Carly era at HP. Interviewed on PBS, Burrows gave his take on why the sizzle of a CEO -- who hired pop star Gwen Stefani to headline a tradeshow beside her -- didn't satisfy.
I think she is a very polarizing figure. Initially people almost always, you know, sort of think the world of her and are sort swept away with her charisma and her good ideas and her passion. But I think that over time, a lot of people at HP particularly I know, lost faith when it became clear that her ideas just weren’t working.
Fundamentally, HP was a great printer company and a very average to poor computer company. She went out and did a merger that doubled the size of the poor business, and now they’re stuck in a lousy — a very challenging PC industry.
She got that deal done against all odds, and sort of against the market’s wisdom. Investors hated the deal. They took 17 percent out of the stock immediately when it was announced.