|When Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha instantly became ultra patriotic and started to act as a proxy for Hindu fundamentalists some time back, people hinted of an hidden agenda. Yes, she wanted to be the Prime Minister of India. Jayalalitha moved her cards so well that she was just blocks away from her ultimate goal of becoming the head of the country. Imagine that! Jayalalitha - the Prime Minister of India.
Now, here in the tech world , when Carlie Fiorina, the former CEO of HP was fired last month, columnists around the country were talking about a very similar hidden agenda. Carlie wanted to enter politics, and she used HP for her ultimate goal.
Give us a break lady. Did you monkey around with a ?technology marvel? to move your hidden agenda? I can?t believe this.
When HP acquired Compaq four years ago, I thought Carlie Fiorina, the then fresh CEO must be a smart kid( rather mom) in the block. That was a bold decision. She decided to buy a company which was rapidly going south and one that had competing product line to that of HP. She made this decision amidst great pressure and opposition from many share holders ? including Walter Hewlett- the son of William Hewlett, one of the founders of HP. You must be really smart and confident to make such a bold decision when you already know that half of the company is not with you. So it was natural that many ? including myself ? thought that Carlie, the charming, well-coiffed and coutured CEO would make a dramatic impact on HP which traditionally ran by an awkward looking group of nerds who really were wearing short-sleeved sta-press shirts with pocket protectors throughout their careers.
But when Carlie made some unpleasant decisions to make HP more of a commodity company, ignoring the great inventions that HP is famous for, people raised their eyebrows. She fired a lot of scientists, who came to work each day on Page Mill Road, in Palo Alto, Calif., not to make a killing in high tech, but for the sheer joy of inventing cool things. She stupidly dismantled HP of everything the company once stood for. You don?t mess with a great culture that built a whole industry around it.
?The HP way? is the foundation of Silicon Valley. The great inventions of HP were the corner stones of the great information revolution that we all live in. If it?s true that Carlie used HP to glorify her resume, as a programmer and as a technologist who make a living with what HP invented, I would never cry for Carlie, and I would agree with Lawrence Fisher, the former New York Times columnist for calling Carlie a , ?Hatchet Woman?.
Did Carlie gamble with the Compaq merger? Did she use the merger to turn the attention of the whole country towards her? Looks like yes.
According to some long time HP loyalists, who contacted the press soon after they were shown the door by the Carlie?s management, Carlie had no intention of sticking around Hewlett-Packard for very long. Her real intent was to do a quick, post MGR, Jayalalitha style turnaround, accompanied by the best autobiography money could buy, and in 2004 run for the U.S. Senate, against Barbara Boxer of California.
It seemed a little far-fetched, but soon the photo-op shots of Carlie in the company of high-ranking Republicans began proliferating. Even as Carly's script for HP ran into harsher realities, even as Boxer retained her seat, the story never really died. And in retrospect, it offers the only explanation that makes any sense at all of Carly's biggest strategic move. - The merger of Compaq , which was a disaster.
During Carlie?s six year reign, HP?s stock fell from the $80s to the $20s and danced around it. Share holders continuously lost money while she repeatedly glorified how rosy things were in each and every conference call. She repeatedly made sure to sensationalize the merger of Compaq although every Tom, Dick and Harry knew it was a disaster.
She was responsible for discontinuing some great products like the HP ? Jornadas, the clam shelled Pocket PCs which had very little competition and had very good potential to become a hit in the mobile sales force world. It came as a big surprise to the corporate customers when she announced that HP-Jornadas would be discontinued. All in all, she made things miserable that corporate customers wanted to stay away from HP until HP settled down, and it never did. Six years is a very long time for someone to turn a company around.
Why did she press for the merger amidst so much opposition, knowing that big mergers rarely worked in the technology world? May be for one good reason.
Wall Street loves big mergers. The investment banks collect immense fees for their roles as advisors, regardless of the ultimate soundness of the deal. And their securities analysts all write positive reports, which prompt a lot of rubes to buy shares, which generates a flood of trading commissions. Big mergers and acquisitions are almost always a net negative for the companies and communities involved, but a win-win for the bankers, lawyers and other deal makers. The whole industry will talk about you. Fortune magazine will feature you , followed by Time and all others, including the Tabloids, and all should have worked well enough for Carlie to declare victory and move on to the political stage.
To those who will inevitably say that Carlie( and Jayalalitha) has been singled out for harsh treatment because she is a woman, baloney. Anne Mulcahy of Xerox, Meg Whitman of eBay, Carol Bartz of Autodesk, Andrea Jung of Avon products, Karen Katen of Pfizer among others, and of course our most respected Condoleeza Rice, have all shown that a Y chromosome is no prerequisite to performing the leadership role with quiet competence. What these leaders share besides their gender is that they are honest, and they don't make promises they can't possibly keep. The problem with Carlie Fiorina is that she's more show than biz. She fits right in with the modern definition of celebrity. She's well known because she's managed to become well known, not because of anything she's actually accomplished.
If you are a Jayalalitha sympathizer, very sorry, with due respect, I?m not. Not for any party affiliations or personal favors. But for the sheer dislike of her ugly politics and hidden agendas. I know how she moves her pawns to reach her goals. I know how she sensationalizes issues to gain the attention of the masses. I still remember the cost of an unnecessary election which she ?created? to prove her existence, that cost billions of tax payer money and precious lives. She just gained more ?kudos? for humiliating Actor Vivek Oberoi?s honest attempt to help the Tsunami victims. I see a very similar approach in Carlie Fiorina. If Carlie?s intentions were in fact to jump into politics at the expense of HP?s disaster, she is nothing but an doppelganger of Jayalalitha, who is well-coiffed and coutured, and of course a hatchet woman with a hidden agenda.