Fiorina, Carly

▪ 2003

      On May 3, 2002, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), the second largest computer company in the U.S., merged with Compaq Computer Corp., the third largest. The revenues of the newly unified company, which retained the Hewlett-Packard name, were expected to rival those of computer giant IBM Corp. That the merger took place at all, however, was mainly due to the strength and resilience of Carly Fiorina, HP's chairman and CEO.

      Fiorina was born Cara Carleton Sneed in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 6, 1954, the daughter of Joseph Sneed, a judge and law professor, and artist Madelon Sneed. Her family moved often, and she attended school in Ghana, the U.K., North Carolina, and California. She graduated from Stanford University in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in medieval history and philosophy but dropped out of law school at the University of California, Los Angeles, after only one semester. She later matriculated at the University of Maryland, College Park (M.B.A., 1980), and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School (M.S., 1989).

      At age 25 she started in an entry-level position at AT&T Corp. (she later married Frank Fiorina, an AT&T executive). Within 10 years she had been named the company's first female officer, and at the age of 40 she became head of AT&T's North American operations. Fiorina engineered the successful spin-off of AT&T's research division as Lucent Technologies, Inc., in 1996, and two years later she was promoted to president of Lucent's Global Service Provider Business, in charge of sales to the world's largest telecommunications companies.

      On July 19, 1999, Hewlett-Packard unexpectedly announced that the then-44-year-old Fiorina would become its new chief executive—the first outsider to lead HP in its 60-year history and the first woman to head a company listed in the Dow Jones 30 Industrials. Fiorina encountered some resistance from employees as she updated the “HP Way” of working, a traditional, consensus-based system that she felt had become slow and bureaucratic. After failed talks with PricewaterhouseCoopers about acquiring that firm's consulting business, Fiorina turned her attention to Compaq. Her plan to merge HP with Compaq, announced in September 2001, was contested by Walter Hewlett and David Packard, the sons of HP's cofounders. Packard was opposed to the layoff of 15,000 staff that the merger would entail, while Hewlett expressed concern that the assimilation of Compaq would be as difficult for HP as Compaq's takeover of Digital Equipment Corp. and Tandem Computers, Inc., had been in the late 1990s. Fiorina led a strong campaign against this opposition, however, and, after a grueling eight-month proxy battle and an unsuccessful lawsuit by Hewlett, she won the support of shareholders, albeit by a slim margin of 51.4% of the votes cast.

Alan Stewart

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Universalium. 2010.

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