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But that'd be wrong. She was an epic disaster of almost unprecedented proportions.
Fiorina's chief "accomplishment," such as it was, was to force through the acquisition of Compaq Computer in 2002, a move fiercely opposed at the time by just about anyone with any sense: Compaq was in the increasingly unprofitable commodity hardware business, while HP's chief rival, IBM, was undergoing a renaissance by focusing on services.
Among those hostile to the idea was Deutsche Bank, a major HP shareholder. Fiorina managed to bring DB around, but how she managed to do so is a tale in itself. In short, she went full-on bully:
"In proxy voting, Deutsche Bank originally voted against the transaction with the massive HP shares it held in various fiduciary accounts--representing the interests of its investment clients. Enraged, Fiorina threatened in a recorded voicemail, 'we may have to do something extraordinary' to bring Deutsche Bank over the line. In a conference call with Deutsche Bank commercial bankers eager to do business with HP, she stated 'This is obviously of great importance to us as a company. It is of great importance to our ongoing relationship.'More of Fiorina's track record below.
"After such coercion, Deutsche Bank's commercial bankers intervened; apparently fearing lost business then, supposedly independent Deutsche Bank fund managers reversed their vote. This was immediately challenged in Delaware Chancery Court. The court saw the danger of such alleged vote-buying, but ultimately it allowed the deal."
Shame on DB for caving to such pressure, but they paid the same price all HP shareholders did, as the company's stock price plummeted following the Compaq purchase:
But it wasn't just some giant institutional investors who lost their shirts on the long ride down. It was much worse than that. HP was forced to lay off some 30,000 employees during Fiorina's reign of error, and Jeffrey Sonnenfeld writes that Fiorina also helped destroy "the company's revered employee morale, and the egalitarian, humble HP way culture." That ushered in a paranoid leadership style that paved the way for Hewlett-Packard's grotesque internal spying scandal, revealed little over a year after Fiorina's departure.
HP wasn't some flash-in-the-pan dot-com bubble company. In many ways, it was the original Silicon Valley startup: The reason why the legend of the company proverbially "founded in a garage" is so pervasive is because that's where HP was actually born, all the way back in 1939. Yet Fiorina very nearly annihilated it all. In 2010, when Fiorina embarked on an ill-fated bid for Senate in California, Arianna Packard, a granddaughter of HP founder David Packard, fired off a scathing letter recounting the company's near-death experience:
"I know a little bit about Carly Fiorina, having watched her almost destroy the company my grandfather founded."Brutal. Today, HP has managed to put itself on the road to recovery -- by shedding all the vestiges of Compaq that Fiorina twisted arms to buy. Fiorina, though, made out much better, earning $100 million in compensation in under six years, including a $21 million severance package.
Just imagine how much we'd have to pay her to go away if she ever became president.