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Carly Fiorina destroyed the 'HP Way' (sfgate.com)
67 points by guelo on Oct 27, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments

Even when she was CEO, it was widely believed within HP that Fiorina was only there to fluff up her Republican credentials in preparation for a run at higher office. The HP/Compaq merger was at least in part motivated by her desire to be the author of a flashy, attention-grabbing merger that would vault her into the public eye.

Apparently, though, epic failure in business doesn't disqualify you from running as the candidate of managerial competence in the modern Republican party. Fiorina destroyed an icon of the American tech industry, and for what? Nothing

Y'see, this is why I don't like these sorts of discussions. Suppose Fiorina were a Democrat instead of a Republican. Would you be writing the same thing (s/Republican/Democrat/), or would you be defending her?

Maybe you would be writing exactly the same thing. Maybe you're a paragon of political detachment. But in the fraught political climate of the day, I the reader am left to suspect that most people's opinions on the matter are severely coloured by whether they personally wish to see a Republican replace a Democrat in next week's California Senate election.

This is why I don't think this article is conducive to good discussion and have flagged it.

Sorry, but I disliked Fiorina way before it was cool.

I would dislike her regardless of party, for the way she destroyed HP culture and turned my friends at Compaq into bitter, insecure husks of human beings. (Those that haven't been fired by now, anyways) The fact that she's actually running for office on that record is just the icing on the cake.

The arsenic on the cake.

I worked for HP when she was the CEO. I hated her then, and will hate her to my dieing breath. It doesn't matter if she calls herself the "free beer and pot for everyone" party candidate, I would stil hate her.

I could post a Great Wall of Text(tm)(r) explaining why she was a rotten CEO, and it wouldn't be anywhere near as polite as the linked article.

Finally, I have never met a person who worked at HP who actually liked what she did to the company. I'm sure there are some, but at the facility I worked at (in Colorado Springs), there were none that I met.

I said back in the day HP should have hired Catherine Keener just to play the CEO, and I was right.

I think in Fiorina's case, the dislike in the tech industry for her trumps political parties, at least on places like HN. It's possible there are people who would suddenly like her if she had run in the Democratic primary instead of the Republican one, but I don't think such people would be very numerous in silicon valley.

I'm not sure that the exact same discussion would be had if she were a Democrat, but not because people would be giving her a free pass.

The Republican party makes it a major plank to support large business and to support issues that benefit the wealthy/large, while making less-than-indisputable arguments as to why the decisions benefit the rest of the company. Thus, her tenure at a large business is quite relavent to her viability as a Republican candidate, while it's less relavent (though certainly still important) to her viability as a democrat.

I agree. I'm far from considering myself a democrat (I hate both parties pretty much equally), but aren't most of the "experience is totally out of left field" politicians Republican?

The Gipper

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Clint Eastwood

Carly Fiorina

George W Bush (his main claim before governorship, other than genetic, was running a baseball team)

Who else?

Sarah Palin - sportscaster

Sonny Bono

Shirley Temple (yes really - she ran for office, didn't win, but was chosen as a diplomat)

On the Democrat side there is… who? Hillary Clinton? But she actually majored in polisci and law, which is a traditional path. Al Franken is odd but he was a political humorist. And he graduated from Harvard with a degree in polisci.

In fact, though I looked, the only Democrat I could find who fit the bill was Jerry Springer. Yes, that's Gipper-level weird.

Ronald Reagan had a long lead-up to running for Governor of CA and eventually President. Sarah Palin did the mayor => governor path that happens a lot. GWB did a lot of behind the scenes work in Bush I's White House which followed a pretty normal political path. Clint Eastwood ran for mayor in a pretty normal fashion.

Some of it is Democrat's looking for inexperience or Republican's trying to be seen as "outside the system", but it is a pretty normal path taken by pretty much everyone listed. It matches the Democrats on about an even basis. Look at the actual paths of people and not what the media tells you.

For example, The last election had both top spots as Senators with no executive office experience in a lower rung of government. This is generally not good when you know that neither had done a budget cycle from the executive prospective (e.g. mayor, governor). This lack of experience, probably lead to some of the problems seen with the federal budget cycles.

// I do believe the same probably would have been true of a McCain admin even with a VP that had been through it as a mayor and governor.

I dunno about anyone else, but I was anti-Fiorina way back when she was advising McCain. At the time, I supported McCain due to his position on torture [1], but having Fiorina as an adviser certainly made me think he would be less than effective.

[1] The other candidates on my radar at that time (Hillary, Rudy) were pro torture, McCain was against. Sad to say torture has become an electoral issue.

McCain did not oppose torture; he opposed the uniformed military engaging in torture. He was fine with CIA officers torturing people in military facilities assisted by military officers. See http://balkin.blogspot.com/2008/02/senator-mccain-is-against... for more information.

The article you quote does not agree with the content of your post. McCain's quoted statement claims that the Military Commissions Act (supported by McCain) already requires the CIA to treat prisoners humanely and forbids torture. Regardless, this is way off topic.

Well, I don't like these sorts of "what if the shoe were on the other foot?" comments.

A person's motives for writing both unknowable and immaterial, and I find speculation on the matter annoying. If someone makes a good case, they make a good case. I don't care if the devil himself told them to make it.

Well, Fiorina-bashing was a sport in the Bay Area long before she stepped into the political ring.

Maybe a better question would be what if the Republicans had run a different candidate with a track record of success in business? As it happens, they have, but there hasn't been much in the way of discussion on HN about Meg Whitman (and I'm not inviting anyone to start one, btw).

I agree completely. This site should be about hacking and startups, not about politics.


-- Does it matter what side of the fail table she sat on?

HP was a tech industry icon? This is a genuine question. Everyone here seems to have fond memories of HP. I thought HP was a big boring company that made good printers and some decent polish notation graphing calculators and a few crappy PCs. I've never wanted to buy anything from them in the last ... 15 years. Its never struck me as interesting -- especially from the point of view of a software developer interested in startups.

HP may be a shell of its former self these days, but they were the prototype for Silicon Valley. Hewlett and Packard were a couple of bright engineers who parlayed a clever oscillator circuit built in a garage in Palo Alto into a billion-dollar company. They made the tools almost every engineer used. Thanks to their reputation for technical excellence and respect for their employees, HP was a dream job for many engineers. (Most famously, Steve Wozniak) The best analogy I can think of is that they were the Google of their day.

Unfortunately, being a mature company with unsexy product lines like scientific instruments wasn't popular with investors in the late '90s and the bean counters and MBA types were given free reign to strip and gut HP so that now it's little more than a marketing division for cheap, Chinese-made crap with funky bezels.

It's not much of an exaggeration to say that Hewlett and Packard were the Romulus and Remus of their day. They didn't build a company, they built an idea.

I'd suggest you do some reading, there's a serious hole in your knowledge of HP. The HP history and culture that people admire has nothing to do with PCs or printers, and predates those going back many decades. (Does anyone know of a museum or collector that might be interested in my HP 300A Harmonic Wave Analyzer? I think that was their second product, a very impressive one for the early 40's... It's still useful)

HP has a long history of very sophisticated electronic test equipment. A great deal of innovation and hard work went into development of that equipment, including many things that hadn't been done before. Many other tech companies used HP (and Tektronix) gear when developing their products. Aside from the many tech contributions, their corporate culture was certainly one to admire. HP was better known to engineers than consumers, but they did do some things that crossed over. The HP-35 hand-held scientific calculator was the first product of it's type I ever saw (and owned too...), certainly seeming worth the $400 one cost back in the day (around 1972). HP was constantly pushing the state of the art. HP wasn't merely successful, they were special.

I was sorry that the HP/Compaq computing combination got the HP name. I wish that had stayed with the real tech products, but in Agilent tech lives on. HP certainly stands out from an era when the U.S. really shined as an engineering and manufacturing leader. HP wasn't another Dell or Gateway.

There are (and were) tech companies with a past that goes way back. For instance most think of Motorola as a cell phone company. They were huge in semiconductors (some of that lives on in Freescale), but how many remember them as being the ones behind the first car radio or first under $200 television set, or making communications gear that went to the moon?

In comparison, I find it a little sad to see highly valued companies like Facebook that don't really seem to produce anything. If it had never come into being, would we have really missed much that mattered?

You need to read a book called Bill & Dave ( http://www.amazon.com/Bill-Dave-Hewlett-Packard-Greatest/dp/... ). Seriously.

Everything good about Silicon Valley is owed to that company, and to its founders. It's impossible to place Fiorina's actions in any sort of context until one understands that.

HP wasn't the first. In the 90s, there was Lucent Technologies, aka Bell Labs (Unix, C, C++, vi, plan9...): http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/tag/carly-fiorina/


(disclosure: my parents worked there at the time and brought home the internal news every night)

Worth reading, thanks. But it faults her for Lucent's strategy of pushing new products into the market by financing small companies to buy and operate them. Not only was it approved by the market, it was a sound strategy.

Lucent was continually developing new networking equipment with a particular service model in mind, but AT&T was sluggish in deploying them. So they found ambitious small companies and hooked them up with equipment on time payment plans. Generally they ran the service better than the telcos would have, and it created lots of great companies.

The 2nd link provide does a "by the numbers reported" reports. It's like high schoolers in chemistry class trying to get an A on lab work; who hasn't fudged the numbers before?

The Fortune article digs a bit deeper: PathNet was such service provider caught in the easy money in the internet bubble era. "...PathNet, with barely 100 employees and all of $1.6 million in annual revenue..." "...The smaller company had barely $100 million in equity (and that's based on generous accounting assumptions) on top of which it had already balanced $350 million in junk bonds paying 12.25% interest. Adding $440 million in loans from Lucent..."

So, give equipment and money to a company, knowing they would need to one day repay 220 times their revenue (if they could), and recording that as a "sale" ... that does not appear to be sound strategy for sustaining one's own company. It's like banks, giving out loans to people to buy houses they might not be able to afford...

I hate to be that guy, but vi was written by Bill Joy at Berkeley.

my mistake.

When I joined HP in 2001 out of college, the first thing my boss had me do was read the book "The HP Way." It was by Dave Packard and outlined their history and philosophy for doing business. My boss was an HP lifer and loved the HP culture and made all his direct reports read the book. Sadly, reading the book just made me realize what a different company I had joined since Carly's changes were soon felt through the organization. Even more so when HP merged with Compaq and instilled their Texan-style top-down management approach and booted out the more distributed and democratic approaches towards innovation and decision making. I finally left in 2006 when the Compaq IT management started forcing all IT employees to move to Houston or Palo Alto (I had just moved to Chicago).

The depths of dislike for Fiorina in the tech industry are somewhat impressive. A former-HP friend who strongly leans Republican lamented that the Republicans managed to find almost the only possible person who he wouldn't vote for over Barbara Boxer (who he strongly dislikes... but not as much as he dislikes Fiorina).

I still won't forgive her for killing DEC/Compaq Alpha, one of the most beautiful CPU architectures.

I don't like her because she split off HP's test equipment division into Agilent. I think The HP Way left the building when this division was no longer the heart of the company.

It would be like Disney spinning off the animated movie business to focus on running TV stations or GM spinning off the car business to focus on financing. It might make sense on a spreadsheet but it has to hurt morale of all employees who give more than the minimum because they are proud to be associated with an iconic company

The HP way is very much alive at Agilent. It's the right way to build test equipment and their stuff remains the gold standard. But it turned out that building ink jet printers was a low-margin business so that part of the company had to become a less luxurious place to work.

I don't know if you can blame her for that - I seem to remember her starting about the time of the split, so it must have been in the works before she started.

I felt the HP Way was alive at Agilent (at least at the time of the split).

Lew Platt, her predecessor, did the Agilent split in the late 90's. He was an HP engineer in the 60's and worked his way up, but ultimately planted the seeds for its downfall during his tenure. I remember disliking him in the 1998-1999 timeframe.

Wasn't Carly Fiorina the one who destroyed HP's R&D division and consequently relegated a large chunk of the HP product line (HPUX, systems and storage) to obsolescence in the space of a few years?

She destroyed the "HP way...which put a premium on integrity, respect for employees and a focus on how the company's work would benefit the broader community.

Difficult to see how you could do the same in Washington

She was the one who started the policy of bugging employees and board members to find leaks. I'm sure the WireTapHawks would love to have her in DC.

Didn't the HP board destroy the HP Way by placing the outsider Fiorina at the helm?

I agree. You can't blame a single person for such a large strategic shift. She is just the most visible, and the easiest to blame.

However, some number of people had to think it was a good idea to hire her, continue to extend her contract, and reward her performance with huge compensation.

Even a CEO has a boss.

The analogy here is that if she's elected and screws up the country, then it's the voters' fault. Which is true, but is also a good reason to not put yourself in that position as a voter.

I am of the same opinion. I always thought that the board had lost it's way and Fiorina / Hurd were just the consequences. It is not like the board didn't know what they were getting.

Carly Fiorina running on her record as CEO of HP is like Michael Brown running on his record as the head of FEMA.

Seems to me that quite a few tough choices need to be made in DC and I don't recall Boxer making any that didn't involve wasting vast sums of money.

and Barbara Boxer is, along with her fellow foolish democrats and republicans, destroying the American Way. I guess they're even steven.

The article charges that at HP, Fiorina maximized shareholder value at the expense of a great intellectual & humanitarian legacy. You can deplore that or not depending on your economics. But it's not a reason to paint her as a bumbler or willful destroyer. The market approved her strategy at Lucent and most of her time at HP.

What? Lucent lost 90% of its value thanks to Carly's leadership, and HP's stock lost 50%. If she was effective at anything, it was destroying shareholder value by the billion.

Fiorina's (mis)adventures with HP are hardly news (she resigned in 2005). This is a purely political article before next week's election, and it is "off-topic: most stories about politics [...] unless they're evidence of some interesting new phenomenon."

The timing of this article is interesting. Supposedly she destroyed the 'HP Way' years ago. Makes me wonder why it was brought up now... Almost as if there was some important date approaching...

The intention is clearly stated in the first and second sentences of the article. It's not as if the author's are trying to hide their purpose.

Look at the username, this person is trolling.

I can't take this seriously - blaming an individual, especially a CEO, for destroying a corporate culture is ridiculous. I know essentially nothing about the history of HP, but what I do know is that the board bears ultimate responsibility for big decisions, for example a massive layoff.

There is also the distinct possibility that the 'HP Way' was sacrificed to save the company. Again, I know nothing of the history, but putting out a hit piece like this right before the election is just crude.

I can't take this seriously - blaming an individual, especially a CEO, for destroying a corporate culture is ridiculous.

I think this is actually the dumbest thing I've ever seen written on Hacker News. If the CEO isn't responsible for corporate culture, then A) Who is? and B) What's the CEO responsible for?

And why are CEOs getting paid way more than everyone else if they have zero responsibility? Seems like an absolutely sweet gig if you can get paid and shirk any responsibility for a company's failure.

Just convince the board that you are a CEO and they should hire you.

It worked for a friend I know who is a film producer who faked his early resumé as "Producer" and kept getting hired as a such. He would hire good staff & they'd pretty much run the show. He learned producing on the job and quickly replaced the fake resumé jobs with real ones. Thing is, all it took was convincing someone he actually was a Producer. I think many CEOs do the same thing. Walk the walk, talk the talk and hope your employees don't screw up.

It is. You get paid either way.

It's still a political hit piece which would not exist in the alternative universe where this week's California Republican senate candidate is, say, Tom Campbell.

There may be a time and a place for discussing the upsides and downsides of any particular CEO's tenure at any given company, but it would probably be much better to discuss it when said CEO is not standing for election in less than a week, so that people's feelings on politics don't cloud their opinions on technology management.

I know nothing about Carly Fiorina's time as CEO of HP, but am disinclined to trust anyone's opinion on the subject this week. Can we talk about Geoffrey Immelt's CEOship of General Electric instead?

That seems like a particularly relevant time to talk about it, though. When someone from the tech industry is being proposed for some position with greater power, isn't that a good time to review the existing information as a basis on which to make decisions? I'd say the same of positive reviews: if someone thought Fiorina was a great CEO, now, when people are about to make decisions about whether she should be a Senator or not, is a great time to write that piece and tell us why. I guess it'll still be relevant for the history books to write it in 10 years, but it's more practically useful to write it when people can actually use the information.

A lot of people on HN do know something about it, both as techies and as residents of the area. Listening to their opinions or not is your prerogative, but if you live in California I wonder what criteria you feel she should be evaluated on besides her history running a tech giant.

but if you live in California I wonder what criteria you feel she should be evaluated on besides her history running a tech giant

Indeed, taking her experience into account, and comparing it to that of Barbara Boxer, is a good idea when you're deciding for whom to vote (unless you're just going to vote on ideology as most people do anyway). But the subject then is still "politics" rather than "tech news".

This has never stopped you before :)

Incidentally, I do think she has a chance of victory. And I also think she and boxer share the same weakness - lack of answers for the underlying problem. Fiorina and other CEOs didn't outsource thousands of jobs to Asia because regulatory compliance was tedious, they did so because the skill level required for a great many jobs is available at a fraction of the price elsewhere. Even if we cut the price of doing business in the USA by 25% in the morning and made administration, regulation and healthcare cheap and easy for all, low-tech manufacturing and services would still be a lot more expensive in the USA than in China or India, and within a few years we'd be back to where we are now.

We need internal reforms, and there are some valid proposals for what to reform and how from both the left and the right. But the big question, to which neither party has proposed any good answers, is how to productively employ the least skilled members of the workforce so that they can have a reasonable level of economic security. People often talk about reviving US manufacturing; that sounds like a fine idea, but first we must identify what we can make that everyone will prefer to buy. In other words, what comparative advantage do we have in manufacturing over the developing world? If no such advantage exists, how can we redeploy that part of our labor force?

I like the green jobs idea, but wind turbines and solar panels can't make up 5% of the economy for the long term.

Well, did Tom Campbell run a major corporation nearly into the ground and leave with literally everybody saying he's a major screwup?

Everybody's been saying she was a disaster for half of a decade. And yes, it's relevant to someone who attempts to make "business experience" a reason to vote for them.

I have to disagree, I would think that the CEO would be the single most important individual in defining, creating and driving a corporate culture.

I agree, but in the case of HP I would add that the board has been entirely capable of disgracing itself independently of Fiorina. Fiorina, Hurd, and Apotheker didn't manifest out of thin air, after all.

Steve Jobs comes to mind as a perfect example (in the positive sense).

Agreed. Infact you could say that that's what a CEO does.

The funny thing is that you're both right and wrong. You're wrong in that the CEO is the person most responsible for corporate culture, everything else flows from there.

But in this particular case, the HP way was 'on the way out' for a while before she ever joined the company, the Agilent spin-off was already in the works before she took over as CEO.

I'm sure that she carries her portion on the blame for what came next though, but spinning off Agilent was definitely not a smart move because it was to a large extent the strongest hold-out of 'the hp way'.

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