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'Tough Choices,' the Rise and Fall of Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina listens to a question during a press conference to announce Hewlett-Packard's merger with Compaq in September 2001.  <strong>Scroll down to read an excerpt from her autobiography.</strong>
Doug Kanter
AFP/Getty Images
Carly Fiorina listens to a question during a press conference to announce Hewlett-Packard's merger with Compaq in September 2001. Scroll down to read an excerpt from her autobiography.

In one of those acts of serendipity that the publishing industry loves, the current scandal over boardroom spying at Hewlett-Packard has erupted just as its former CEO Carly Fiorina has published her autobiography. The book, called Tough Choices, covers Fiorina's rise and fall as America's most powerful female executive.

Fiorina's selection as CEO of the technology company in 1999 was a milestone. Never before had a woman led such a big company. Fiorina says the press coverage took her aback.

"It sounds so naive, but the thing that frankly surprised me the most was how much attention people paid to the fact that I was a woman," she says. "I thought people would want to know about my objectives, what I thought my role was, where we were going, so that was a huge surprise, the woman CEO thing."

Fiorina's tenure included HP's controversial acquisition of Compaq. It followed a bruising, highly public fight with shareholders opposed to the plan, including Walter Hewlett, the son of one of the company's founders. In the press coverage, Fiorina was portrayed as a brash, publicity-seeking outsider with no respect for the company's values.

"I was sustained by the same things that have always sustained me: a knowledge that we're doing the right things, not based on gut but based on deliberative reasoning, we're doing them for the right reasons, we're doing them in the best way we can, and that sustained me."

Fiorina was fired in 2005 after five and a half years on the job. She never got an explanation. Business Week computer editor Peter Burrows says that in the wake of the HP-Compaq merger, Hewlett-Packard had missed its earnings forecast and its share price was down.

Burrows, who wrote a book on Fiorina called Backfire, says Hewlett-Packard is now doing much better and the Compaq merger looks like a success. Burrows says Fiorina deserves some of the credit, but he says most of the people he talks to believe the rebound would never have happened if not for current CEO Mark Hurd.

HP's success has been overshadowed by the recent revelations that management had spied on board members and journalists. Among those whose records were searched was Fiorina. She says the whole scandal was sad and reflected a breakdown in judgment, perspective and ethics.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.