Carly Fiorina, the controversial CEO of Hewlett-Packard
from 1999 until she was fired in 2005, shares five lessons she
Leaders create something new.
Management is about producing acceptable results within known
constraints and conditions. The force for change must be
stronger than an organization’s natural inclination to
preserve the status quo. This is why even a change agent CEO
must have the support of a critical mass of employees. In 1999,
HP was no longer among the top 25 innovators in the world. I
challenged our engineers and inventors to innovate. By 2004, we
were generating 11 patents a day, the highest rate of
innovation in HP’s history, and had become the
number-three innovator in the world.
Don’t fall in love with your
Too much has been made of my background in marketing. Of
course, I’d held sales and marketing jobs, but I’ve
had experience in virtually every department in a big company.
Nevertheless, it is true that as a
“nontechnologist,” I thought the point of our
technology was to serve customers and, in the process, to
deliver revenue and profit. Sometimes, technologists forget the
customer. This was happening at HP in the late ’90s, and
it was one of the reasons our growth was slowing
Competition requires risk-taking.
The risks of change always seem to be more real than the risks
of standing still. Leaders have to be willing to make tough
choices at the right time, which usually means before they are
obvious to everyone else. The Compaq merger was widely
criticized when it occurred; many people did not understand the
decision immediately. Yet, it was a prudent risk given the
changes in the industry and our decision to return to a
leadership position within it.
Businesses often tolerate behavior that’s on the edge;
people justify it as necessary to achieve results and take
comfort that it’s not strictly illegal. Yet such actions
are corrosive. Some of the most important choices I ever made
were firing people who weren’t conducting themselves with
The 21st century is about brainpower.
It requires different capabilities than the 20th, and American
competitiveness is not something we can take for granted. We
must realistically assess the state of our educational system
and invest in its transformation. At the same time, we must
acknowledge that while globalization has caused some real
hardship and dislocation for American workers, our security and
prosperity are greatly enhanced when a greater number of people
around the world have a stake in the success of the global
economy. And we must accept that this country has prospered
because motivated people have wanted to come here and build a