by Meridith Levinson

Look Who’s Stumping Now: Carly Fiorina and Tom Peters Back Presidential Rivals

Oct 28, 20087 mins

Can Carly Fiorina help John McCain get elected? She sure thinks so. But management guru Tom Peters, who admires Fiorina's leadership record, thinks she's got this one dead wrong. He's stumping for Barack Obama.

Carly Fiorina is no Joe CEO.

When she led HP, Fiorina was frequently and publicly graded on everything from her personal style to her business acumen. Since then, she’s put herself on the public stage for a very different reason: to convince Americans to vote for John McCain. Even if you’re not an undecided voter, it’s interesting to hear what former HP CEO Fiorina and management guru Tom Peters have said in recent political speeches about McCain and Barack Obama.


CIOs, Technology Vendors Spread Donations Among Clinton, McCain and Obama

Survey: IT Workers Like McCain, Obama

Where the Candidates Stand on 5 Technology Issues

Election 2008: Technology Issues Will Play a Key Role

Interestingly, Fiorina, a GOP leader who travels the country talking up McCain’s economic policies, was named CEO of 2007 by Peters.

But on politics, the two don’t see eye to eye on much. Peters, who wrote In Search of Excellence and who has given 2,500 speeches on management, gave his first-ever political speech in support of Obama at small rally in Manchester, Vermont(not far from his home in Tinmouth.)

Their respective political speeches couldn’t have been more different. Where Fiorina was broad and measured, Peters was direct and fiery. Fiorina’s digs at Obama were subtle, while Peters called McCain cranky and said he couldn’t “stomach” Palin.

Here’s a look at what the former HP chief and the management guru have to say about their candidates.


Experience was a central theme of McCain’s campaign until the Arizona Senator tapped Sarah Palin, a relatively inexperienced governor from Alaska, as his running mate. But McCain’s choice of Palin didn’t stop Fiorina from emphasizing McCain’s tenure and “wisdom” in her speech at the RNC. She said McCain’s leadership and experience have “prepared him for the presidency.”

But where Fiorina lauds McCain as a wise statesman, Peters sees a stodgy old fogey. “He’s old, he’s tiring, he’s uninspiring, he’s cranky, he’s inflexible and he looks to the past,” Peters said of McCain during his speech in Vermont. “You can’t have a 72-year-old in the White House,” he added, especially when that 72-year-old’s vice president is Sarah Palin.

Peters said that a vote for McCain is a vote for Sarah Palin, and that even though he considers himself a “wild and radical feminist,” he “can’t stomach” the idea of Palin in the White House. Peters reminded his audience that 27 percent of the men who have been elected president have been succeeded in office by their vice president. Consequently, he’s fearful of what Palin might do if she were in charge of using nuclear weapons.

“The thought of Sarah Palin with her finger on the trigger of ten thousand nuclear weapons terrifies me,” he said.

Peters went on to argue that America needs a flexible and forward-thinking president at this critical moment in its history. Peters, who is just shy of his 66th birthday and who acknowledged his own age and curmudgeonly attitude, said that McCain is too set in his ways to provide the country with the leadership it needs. “This is a time when we have to reinvent and re-imagine America,” he said, adding that Obama is the candidate who can meet that challenge.

The Economy

Fiorina, who serves as McCain’s primary advocate as chair of the Republic National Committee’s Victory ’08 team, began her remarks about the economy by offering a vision of America in 2013 if Americans elect McCain:

“…American families will keep more of their hard-earned money,” Fiorina said. “Small and large businesses will be creating jobs here and spurring robust economic growth, because America will once again be a great place to build a business.”

She continued her argument for McCain by making mostly broad statements about the Arizona Senator’s economic plans. She spoke of a McCain administration that would reward innovation and entrepreneurship, and under which workers would be able to “seek retraining to ensure they have the latest skills.”

Fiorina also hinted at McCain’s tax policy and brought up employment: “John McCain will simplify the tax code and reduce the tax burden,” she said. “He will empower individuals and companies to create wealth, opportunities and jobs.”

While discussing energy policy, Fiorina said McCain’s support of clean coal technology and nuclear power would create jobs and lower energy costs.

Toward the end of her RNC speech, Fiorina gave McCain her endorsement as a former Fortune 500 CEO: “As a business person, I support him because I know his programs will strengthen small businesses, foster growth and create jobs.”

In discussing why he’s voting for Obama, Peters honed in on tax policy during his speech in Vermont. He says Obama’s tax policy—a cut for 95 percent of Americans and an increase for the five percent of the population that earns over $250,000—makes sense. He characterized John McCain’s tax policy, which hinges on making the Bush tax cuts permanent, as ridiculous at a time when America is “dead, flat broke,” he said, referring to the country’s deficit and indebtedness to Asia.

Peters summed up McCain’s economic policy as “no tax and let’s spend.” (Note that Peters delivered his speech before McCain called for a spending freeze in the second and third presidential debates.)

Peters also spoke of Obama’s commitment to the middle class in making the case for his candidate on the economy. “The middle class and working class are watching their jobs go overseas to China and India&Wages are stagnant and declining,” he said.

What’s more, Peters believes Obama puts people first, and Peters notes that putting people first is “the fundamental secret of business success” that he wrote about in In Search of Excellence.

Foreign Policy

Before the economy took center stage this fall, foreign policy and the war in Iraq were the campaign’s hot-button issues. McCain seized those topics to distinguish himself from Obama and to show voters that as a Vietnam veteran and long-time member of Congress, he had experience and perspective that Obama lacked.

Fiorina echoed those notes in her RNC speech. “He knows the cost of war in a deeply personal way, and as both a son and a father of warriors,” she said of McCain. “He knows that our liberties and our freedoms only come with the sacrifice of brave men and women.”

Fiorina used foreign policy and the war to take subtle jabs at Obama. “John McCain will bring our troops home with victory and with honor,” she said, implying that the troop withdrawal Obama has called for is akin to admitting defeat. “He will not negotiate with brutality and he will never shrink from calling evil and aggression by their names,” she added, suggesting that Obama would be too soft on the likes of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

A fired-up Peters proposed in his speech that McCain was too rash and hot-tempered to serve as commander-in-chief. ” ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran’ is not a cute song,” he shouted, invoking the Beach Boys send-up McCain sang at a town hall meeting in South Carolina in April.

Peters also suggested that just because McCain has fought in war doesn’t mean he is capable of being president. Peters noted that he too is a Vietnam vet, having served two tours of duty in the Navy from 1966 to 1968.

“I have the same Navy hat as John McCain,” he said.

He concluded his speech by saying that electing Barack Obama would give people outside the United States reason to love America again.

McCain or Obama?

As the election draws near and the candidates make their final cases to voters in battleground states, Americans have just one week left to decide. Fiorina and Peters both hope you’ll see voting on November 4 as one management decision that everyone should help make.