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Backfire: Carly Fiorina's High-Stakes Battle for the Soul of Hewlett-Packard 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0471267652
ISBN-10: 0471267651
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Burrows, who reported on the merger of technology rivals Hewlett-Packard and Compaq for Business Week during late 2001 and early 2002, turns the notes from his day job into an uncompromising look at the deal and the woman who set it in motion, HP CEO Carleton Fiorina. Although George Anders's Perfect Enough covers the same territory, this account distinguishes itself with a deeper portrait of Fiorina. Beginning with her childhood as Cary Carleton Sneed, Burrows traces Fiorina's ascent through a second-tier MBA program to early positions at AT&T and Lucent, uncovering former associates who shadow her success story with tales of ruthless ambition and a tendency to abandon ventures before she could be tainted by their failure. Burrows also depicts the discord within HP ranks over Fiorina, whose marketing-honed strategies were seen as a betrayal of the "HP Way," the leadership principles established by the company's founders. Walter Hewlett, the second-generation director whose opposition to the merger intensified the shareholders' vote, gets substantially less play here than in Anders's version, and Burrows is much less accepting of Hewlett's version of events. But his skepticism also applies to HP's enthusiasm for the Compaq deal, which many industry experts scorned as a recipe for disaster. HP executives eventually stopped cooperating with Burrows once they determined they wouldn't be able to spin his reportage, but the book still manages to provide a richly detailed version of the legal wrangling that finally brought the deal to a close. Although the prose is somewhat hurried, the comprehensive and near-instantaneous analysis will impress business readers.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The now-famous garage in Palo Alto, California, where Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started their company, is commonly known as the "birthplace of Silicon Valley." The humble beginnings and camaraderie that "Bill and Dave" had with HP workers formed the basis of what was known as "the HP Way," a noncompetitive, family orientation. This steady-as-she-goes attitude kept the company in consistent double-digit growth for decades. Flash forward to 2002. Both founding members of the company are gone, and son Walter B. Hewlett is suing high-powered CEO Carly Fiorina over her questionable merger with beleaguered Compaq. Fiorina was brought on board to make sweeping changes to the company, not the least of which was eliminating the HP Way. Burrows' narrative follows Fiorina's rocketing career from AT & T through Lucent Technologies through her signing as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, and focuses on the controversial merger with Compaq. Bold and brash but completely composed, Fiorina always succeeds in making the big moves and somehow manages to escape responsibility for the collateral damage. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (February 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471267651
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471267652
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #585,532 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Gary Griffiths VINE VOICE on February 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Backfire", Peter Burrows' remarkable chronicle of Hewlett-Packard's controversial acquisition of Compaq, marks an important milestone in the rich technology heritage of Silicon Valley. "Backfire" is far more ambitious than the pabulum typical of business writings. In order to build a cogent thesis, Burrows takes on a broad range of topics, including pertinent biographical background of the key players, the legend and lore of Hewlett Packard - the company and the founders - and the arcane mechanics of proxy votes and corporate government. But while the subject matter risks could easily yield a pompous and boring analytical tome, the author injects exactly the right amount of intrigue, drama, treachery, and humor while capturing characters that are wholly believable in their flaws, foibles, and ultimate victory or defeat. The economy of Burrows' prose, sharpened by years of reporting for "Business Week", yields a tale that is a true page-turner with much more energy, excitement, and personality than the standard business fare.

Any frequent "Business Week" reader knows that Burrows is no fan of Carly Fiorina. Consequently, the author was not granted official access to either Fiorina or HP officials (HP denies any connection, citing only "scheduling conflicts"). Notwithstanding, his portrayal of HP's embattled CEO is vivid and wholly believable. Fiorina, the marketer and master-of-spin with no prior CEO experience, is injected into the venerable but stumbling culture of Hewlett-Packard. A veteran of the politics and bureaucracy of AT&T and Lucent, she is an unusual match for the techno-nerd culture of HP, where products trump hype and integrity and loyalty are revered.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on May 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
HP is a company in transition. For decades one of the fastest growing companies in history, it is now seen as a beleaguered giant, risk averse and unable to transform itself.

This book situates the company's crisis in the context of the ascension of Carly Fiorina to the position of CEO and her brutal fight to acquire Compaq while changing the company.

The origins of Hewlett-Packard have become the stuff of legend. During an electrical engineering class at Stanford in 1934, Bill Hewlett and David Packard began to formulate a vision for a company; their professor, Fred Terman, immediately recognized their talent and set about to mentor them. Four years later, in a rented garage with just $538, Hewlett and Packard, flipping a coin to decide whose name would come first, founded Hewlett-Packard. From the start, HP strove to create innovative technology products, predominantly in the instrumentation and measurement field. Their first big break came with the Disney company's purchase of an audio oscillator, which it used to fine tune the sound track for the experimental music film Fantasia. As the company grew, the founders articulated a series of objectives ("the HP Way"), which included the necessity to make a profit with a focus on innovation in the electronics field, but also an egalitarian culture that emphasized employee profit-sharing, career opportunities, and a contribution to the community.

According to many employees, the HP Way helped to create an exceptional work environment, in which individual opinions mattered and strong personal relationships of trust grew along with professional engagement. Many HP employees spent their entire careers at the company.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By James Maxwell on June 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book as it contained substantial original reporting that is not duplicative of the work that others have done. I would have liked to see more material concerning bottom line issues. The bottom line issue that has the most resonance for me is the Wall Street assessment, both now, and at the time of the merger, that HP's non-printing businesses have no value on the Street. In other words, if HP were to be bought by some other firm, the Wall Street consensus is that such an acquirer should simply eliminate the other businesses. HP's value is actually less as currently structured because eliminating these other businesses has closing costs associated with this shutdown activity.
The clear implication here is that Walter Hewlett was absolutely correct in opposing this merger, since the result clearly is that 20 billion dollars was completely wasted, and precious time is still being lost on ineffective strategies to revive these businesses. With the benefit of hindsight we can say that Walter Hewlett should have been given more credit than he received, even from Burrows, for opposing this capital and job destruction, even in the face of Fiorina's personal attacks.
This book should have pointed out that these at-risk businesses can still be saved, particularly the server and server-related businesses, with the appointment of proper management by the Board of Directors. What they need to be looking for this time is not someone whose picture has been on the cover of "Fortune" magazine, as was Carly's before she was hired, but someone with the knowledge and interest in saving HP.
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