Former Hewlett Packard (HP) CEO Carly Fiorina speaks about the economy during a panel at the Heritage Foundation on December 18, 2014 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images ORG XMIT: 529339341 ORIG FILE ID: 536265175
One Question for Carly Fiorina
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The next US President must be a great communicator.

Distilling complex and controversial problems into mental models accessible to large numbers of people is not deception–it’s brilliance. The reason we hang onto sound bites isn’t because we’re stupid–it’s because we’re busy. We all don’t have time to earn masters-degree understanding of every issue facing society and government. Honest, accurate distillations of the complex ideas allow us to choose and act quickly.

Carly the Communicator

Based on everything I’ve read, Carly Fiorina is the champion communicator in the 2016 race. She went from secretary to CEO in large part because people understand what she’s talking about, and her explanations are consistent with reality.

Don’t discount that last part. It’s one thing to use communications to bamboozle people. It’s another to use communications ethically. And Carly Fiorina’s reputation is stellar in clearly communicating the truth.

Is Carly a Conservative?

Some conservatives doubt Ms. Fiorina’s conservatism. I don’t.

While she was on the wrong side of the government shutdown recently, reasonable people can disagree on tactics. Strategically, she wants the same outcome Ted Cruz and Mike Lee want. And there’s no way to know who was right.

Meanwhile, I see some people making ridiculous exaggerations about her statements on Islam. What she said about Islam is historically unassailable. It’s depressing that some political partisans feign ignorance of history to score cheap political points. I don’t see the benefit to conservatism to be thought of as ignorant.

So, unlike a few of my friends I do not doubt Carly Fiorina’s conservative bona fides. She served as Chairman of the American Conservative Union. (She calls herself “chairman,” refreshingly, not “chairperson,” “chairwoman,” or the truly confusing title “chair.”) Her vision for America is and has been consistently conservative.

But conservative isn’t enough. I have one big question for Carly Fiorina, and it involves leadership.

Would President Fiorina Eat First or Last?

I spent a large part of my adult life in technology. I have  few friends and colleagues who worked at Hewlett-Packard before and during Ms. Fiorina’s term as CEO.

These HPers tell me that many of Fiorina’s decisions as CEO turned out to be good in the long run. Some of those decisions, like buying Compaq, were highly unpopular then, but turned out to be the right moves.

Other Fiorina moves are more disturbing. Carly Fiorina changed HP’s culture, and I don’t like the way she changed it. In short, HP’s greatest innovation was never technological–it was cultural. From Entrepreneur Magazine in 2008:

But what really sets HP apart isn’t technology, but the visionary management style created by HP founders William Hewlett and David Packard. Their policy of showing sensitivity to their employees’ needs and giving their workers the chance to be creative in solving technical and business problems has made HP one of the most successful and admired companies in the history of American industry.

I’ve heard that Fiorina undid that great culture. While Hewlett and Packard ate lunch in common cafeterias with their employees, Fiorina isolated executives in veritable palaces. The ultimate engineering company–of engineers, by engineers–became a two-tier society with MBAs and lawyers as the elites and engineers as the plebes.

Fiorina, I am told, turned a great culture into a hierarchical hell. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard ate last; Fiorina’s executives ate first.

Leaders Eat Last

Why is this so important to me? Why do I keep harping on leadership and service?

Because a free society depends on virtuous citizens and servant-leaders. I want to puke when I read about the Obamas and their 200-person entourages, their privilege, their demand for royal treatment,  their disruption of people’s lives so they can play golf in Hawaii. And what about Hillary Clinton’s egomaniacal demands when she speaks for $250,000 an hour? (I do not care about the fee. Speakers should be paid. But Hillary’s list of accommodations is just sad.)

We recoil at these selfish excesses because they say to us, “I am better than you, commoner.”

This is America. We are all commoners. As Simon Sinek points out in his TED talk:

This is the reason so many people have such a visceral hatred, anger, at some of these banking CEOs with their disproportionate salaries and bonus structures. It’s not the numbers. It’s that they have violated the very definition of leadership. They have violated this deep-seated social contract. We know that they allowed their people to be sacrificed so they could protect their own interests, or worse, they sacrificed their people to protect their own interests. This is what so offends us, not the numbers. Would anybody be offended if we gave a $150 million bonus to Gandhi? How about a $250 million bonus to Mother Teresa? Do we have an issue with that? None at all. None at all. Great leaders would never sacrifice the people to save the numbers. They would sooner sacrifice the numbers to save the people.

I don’t want another elitist President. We’ve had too many. It’s one reason I worry about Donald Trump.

Maybe Carly Has Changed

On the flip side, Carly Fiorina has so many positives I must stay open. I am giving her the benefit of the doubt, but I want to know she’s change her view of executive elitis

So I have onlyone question for Carly Fiorina: how do you justify the elitist culture so many HPs employees say you installed as CEO?

If she answers that question well, she might become one of my favorites in the race.

 

  • Nice post.

    I am bothered by the suggestion that we can solve the problems with the federal government by “making it run like a business.” It’s not a business…it’s government. It is galactically larger than it should be, and the solution is not to hire an uber-CEO (Fiorina, Trump) but to shrink it and stuff it back into the Constitution. Getting rid of the income tax and the central bank would be the place to start.

    • Yeah, government is neither business nor military. I think a great leader can lead in multiple arenas, but he must recognize that one is not the other.

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