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Fiorina's fall

Business | Why is the first woman to hold the titles of president, CEO, and chairman of a major computer company-all at the same time-now looking for work?

Issue: "Lebanon: Democracy now," Feb. 26, 2005

In the high-tech business world, Carly Fiorina is one of the biggest stars. So why is the first woman to hold the titles of president, CEO, and chairman of a major computer company-all at the same time-now looking for work?

Board members at San Francisco-based Hewlett-Packard Co., where Ms. Fiorina had reigned for six years before being forced to resign on Feb. 9, said she failed to execute a strategy of slashing costs and boosting revenue as quickly as the directors had hoped. A key part of the problem was the company's lackluster performance after Ms. Fiorina led the charge of HP's hotly debated $19 billion merger with Compaq in 2002.

Industry analysts, though, say other issues may have played a role in HP's decision to fire the woman whom Fortune magazine named the nation's most powerful from 1998 to 2004.

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The outsider theory: Ms. Fiorina, a former executive at Lucent Technologies and AT&T, was hired to change the atmosphere at HP. She began by slashing 18,000 jobs, merging 83 business units into less than a dozen, and firing three vice presidents at a 5 a.m. meeting when she learned HP would fall short of its expected quarterly profit.

"She's unwilling to let anyone slide into a comfort zone," said Carl Claunch, vice president of research at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "She made employees uncomfortable because it was obvious she had no room for slackers."

The Benedict Arnold theory: Following the dot-com crash, Ms. Fiorina stated that the technology sector could no longer deliver the profits of an emerging industry.

"Carly was the only senior executive in the computer business who consistently appeared in public and said it's no longer a growth industry," said Mark Stahlman, a Caris & Co. analyst.

She then urged the Bush administration against limiting the ability of U.S. companies to ship jobs abroad, telling Congress, "There is no job that is America's God-given right anymore. We have to compete for jobs."

The paparazzi theory: While other high-tech executives like rival IBM CEO Samuel J. Palmisano were keeping a low profile, Ms. Fiorina was making keynote speeches on Capitol Hill, testifying before Congress, and serving as an adviser to new California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"She was spending more time in front of a video camera than she was with her people," said Warren Bennis, founding chairman of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California.

This theory was the only one addressed by HP's board. "Carly was brought in to catalyze a transformation of HP," said new nonexecutive chairman Patricia C. Dunn. "She did that in a remarkable fashion, and she executed the merger with her management team in a superior fashion. Looking forward, we think the job is very reliant on hands-on execution, and we thought a new set of capabilities was called for."

Balance Sheet

· The dominoes appear ready to topple again in the ever-narrowing telecommunications field. Industry leader Verizon is set to buy MCI for $6.7 billion, winning a bidding war with Qwest Communications. Qwest and MCI began discussing a merger six months ago, but Verizon entered the picture in recent weeks following the sale of AT&T to SBC Communications and Sprint's acquisition of Nextel Communications.

· In an attempt to thwart a merger of Hollywood Entertainment and Movie Gallery, video store giant Blockbuster has begun a hostile takeover bid, giving Hollywood shareholders until March 11 to decide whether to sell their shares to Dallas-based Blockbuster, the nation's largest video retailer with about 9,000 stores worldwide. A Hollywood and Movie Gallery merger would create a combined video chain of only 4,500 stores.

· Faced with the prospect of having to buy another struggling automobile line, General Motors opted to pay $2 billion to Italian automaker Fiat SpA to dissolve a five-year partnership between the two companies. Under the agreement, the two carmakers will dismantle their joint venture that manufactures engines and transmissions. The companies will continue to cooperate on engine production, development of vehicle programs, and other fields.

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