New York Times reporter Brad Strong writes that this political season “might be called the Meg and Carly moment.”
According to Strong, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina–the California Republican nominees for governor and senator, respectively—are “pitching the magic of Silicon Valley. They say they can bring the valley’s inventiveness and efficiencies to a government that is swamped by debt and partisan gridlock.”
Whitman certainly sang that tune in her primary victory speech Tuesday night, describing herself and Fiorina as “two businesswomen from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done.”
Lovely image. However, in the case of Fiorina, it has about as much truth to it as BP’s previously self-proclaimed environmental stewardship. Yet it hasn’t stopped Fiorina from pushing the hype.
“I’m really proud of my record,” she told Fox News earlier this week, “and the good thing about business is the facts are clear.”
Indeed they are.
Here’s a fact for you, Portfolio magazine named Fiorina the “19th Worst CEO of All-Time”—placing her in the top 20 along with the likes of Dick Fuld, Ken Lay, Roger Smith and Bernie Ebbers. Why? Because her tenure as CEO of Hewlett Packard was a disaster.
The magazine described Fiorina as “a consummate self-promoter” who “paid herself handsome bonuses and perks while laying off thousands of employees to cut costs. The merger Fiorina orchestrated with Compaq in 2002 was widely seen as a failure. She was ousted in 2005.”
While promoting herself as a job creator, the reality is Fiorina proved much more adept as a jobs killer. In fact, she referred to offshoring as “right-shoring”, and fired at least 18,000 people. Fiorina told Fortune she “should have done them all faster."
Her so-called business acumen—the very one a chorus of pundits are praising along with Fiorina—was there for all the world to see in the $24 billion HP-Compaq merger that she pushed through in 2002. According to the International Herald Tribune, Fiorina used “hardball tactics to suppress the opposition” to the merger by the company’s founding families.
The Washington Post reported that Fiorina also understated the company’s own projections of the number of jobs at risk in the merger, and overstated the expected profits, according to Walter Hewlett, the company’s largest shareholder at the time and son of its co-founder. Fortune reported that in hindsight, Fiorina wished she had been “more transparent,” but that “candor…would have also further damaged the company…and probably the stock price.”
So how did the Fiorina-fueled merger pan out?
“A flop” and “disastrous,” according to the London Observer.
“A big bet that didn’t pay off,” wrote Fortune. “Didn’t even come close to attaining what Fiorina and HP’s board said was in store.”
Less than three years later Fiorina was fired. The Associated Press reported that the company’s stock “has gone nowhere for two years,” and “rose almost 7 percent after earlier soaring almost 11 percent on the news of her ouster.”
Massive layoffs, jobs shipped overseas, and failed merger aside, Fiorina certainly did get one thing right: her severance package, reportedly worth $42 million.
In the Washington Post today, Karen Tumulty writes that historically, “By and large, CEOs have turned out to be pretty mediocre politicians.” That certainly seemed to be the case earlier this week with Fiorina’s open mic gaffe–she appeared quite petty as she discussed her opponent Senator Barbara Boxer’s hair.
“God, what is that hair?” she said, laughing. “Sooo yesterday.”
So far, she’s refused to apologize to Boxer.
Actually, what is “so yesterday” is outsourcing, offshoring, and self-promotion. If California’s campaign is about judgment and values, Boxer will be just fine.