Thursday, September 18, 2008


It's hard to be perceived as a team player when it's really all about you. Carly Fiorina had a few different ways she could have gone when asked if  any of the principles in the Presidential race could run a Fortune 500 company like HP. Her quick and undiplomatic response was "no"; the subtext was "but I can." She could have said, "you know, that's not really a fair question because big business and government are fundamentally different, it's like comparing apples and bananas..." or "you know, being a leader in government takes a different set of skills and John McCain...", well, you know the rest. Fired, once again, this time as John McCain's 'financial advisor,' her real game plan one might reasonably assume -- ripe with photo opportunities featuring her and McCain -- was about introducing the reinvented Carly Fiorina to a national audience. 

I've never seen a CEO come into a company with as much good will as Carly Fiorina did when she arrived at HP where I worked at the time. After the grindingly dull years of John Young and Lew Platt, she seemed a breath of fresh air, a WOMAN of all things -- AND a non-engineer, come to lead us into the 21st century, shake out the cobwebs and inspire us to re-create HP's glory days. She was all about 'personal empowerment' and moving decisions down the chain of command -- a real biggie because at the time, the decision process was a nightmare, anyone from any division could say "no" to a proposal...and no one person could say "yes" -- while we sat in decision limbo for months at a time, often finally getting a decision after the whole matter was moot, or nobody really cared anymore. So the result of Carly's first broadcast to the division in which I worked? Employees whistling, grinning --  and screaming, believe it or not --"Carly for President!" We were stoked. We had our gal. We were going to make history. We loved her.

Move ahead one year. Nobody has seen or heard from Carly since then -- she's never actually had time to personally visit a site that's about 14 miles away from Corporate and has about 4,000-5,000 people -- other than bewildering tops-down pronouncements, seemingly made in a vacuum, carried over the site sound system. Listening, we rolled our eyes, looked at each other in amazement, sighed and went back to our cubicles, un-stoked, un-inspired, un-motivated.  No long-term nagging problems got solved, decisions became even harder to come by because many now required Carly's personal involvement (so much for "personal empowerment") and she often wasn't available as she was off courting Wall Street or the press or whatever. Then there was the whole ugly Compaq merger, Carly's 'brainchild,' her marketing genius at work, a merger whose lofty premise made no sense to any HP employee I knew.

Around Carly's 18th month at the helm, disengaged, feeling if anything that HP had gone backwards, I could no longer justify taking up cubicle space -- even for a bi-weekly paycheck. In hindsight, one of the best professional decisions I ever made. Because it was only in leaving that I found my path and my true passion.

But the morning Carly's firing made headlines at the San Jose Mercury News, I called an old workmate and friend at HP, singing "Ding dong, the witch is dead," as she answered the phone. She responded that people were celebrating, singing in the isles -- and yes, they were singing the 'ding dong' song. I can only imagine a similar scene at McCain campaign headquarters: Queen Carly wouldn't have made any friends with the 'little people' -- and, well, she was never a team player -- except for Team Carly.

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