Customer Review

54 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Carly's reality really was virtual, November 10, 2006
This review is from: Tough Choices: A Memoir (Hardcover)
I was an HP employee after the Compaq merger and had worked prior to that at both Digital and Tandem. Those of us with this "pre-merger Compaq" background found that being a part of HP was very much a mixed blessing. Carly Fiorina was both CEO and Chairperson by then, and this book provides a view of what she thought she was doing, which is quite different from what those of us in the trenches were seeing. Still, it is well written and provides insights into how hard it is to "re-invent" (or whatever phrase you prefer) a large bureaucratic organization with many competing interests and hidden agendas.

What struck me as the biggest disconnect between the book and what we saw was Carly's emphasis in the book that "strategy and execution are two sides of the same coin." Nice phrase. Too bad she didn't actually do it, though it seems she thought she did. Her strategic visions were always compelling, though of course they changed from one marketing campaign to the next (from "leading technology company" to "all the world is digital, virtual, etc, etc"). So maybe you can't really call them strategies. But far worse was the execution. There was no accountability. There were matrix orgainizations everywhere. We saw the sales force sandbagging every quarter, mentioned this up the line, and were told to shut up. We saw the "42 longs" in the senior management ranks and marveled at how long they got away with non-performance. We saw that 65% of our operating expenses came from assessments over which we had no control. When we complained, we were called "whiners" and told to live with it. It's this kind of stuff that Hurd has fixed.

Then there were the small irritations. In the book, she complains about people being overly polite and not airing their true feelings. But it was clear in meetings with senior executives that certain questions were unaskable. When some poor soul would dare to ask something "embarrasing", they were castigated on-the-spot in public. This happened many times, by Carly herself in several instances. People aren't so stupid as to make that mistake very often. And the airplanes. Carly complains in the book that people didn't like the fact that she had a corporate jet on call. That wasn't it. What people didn't like as that HP had 5 corporate jets and that, at the time when there were layoffs and budget cuts, internal announcements came out about what a good idea it was that HP would sell the two Compaq jets and buy two new jets that matched the three existing HP jets in order to save on maintenance costs. No mention of living with only three jets when everyone else was flying coach, even on 14 hour trips to Japan.

In the end, Carly didn't meet her commitments. That's why she was fired. She blames sexism. Nonsense. She promised to fix HP in three years. She claimed publically that she had done that. Everyone internally knew it was BS, and the Board eventually figured it out too. Since Mark Hurd has taken over, he has done the basic execution that Carly never did. Was she right to buy Compaq? I say yes. The computer system leadership in HP is now coming mostly out of the Compaq heritage (of course, printers, which is pure HP, does fine as well). But it took a real nuts-and-bolts execution person - Mark Hurd - to complete the fixing of HP. The Board did the right thing.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 7, 2007 10:54:29 AM PDT
She doesn't blame sexism for anything. Fiorina does point out a couple of the ridiculous things she and all women have had to put up with, even in the 21st century, but does not blame.

Posted on Sep 15, 2007 9:24:54 AM PDT
I used to work for DEC too - - maybe they could have used a little Carly strategy.

Posted on May 25, 2010 2:08:05 PM PDT
Interesting. I bought this book at a dollar tree store - ha. I'm only about 1/3 the way through it. it's easy reading and I want to enjoy it, but I couldn't help feeling that it is all a little too rose-colored-glasses, etc. You review helps me balance out the overly positive accounts of her narrative. Still I'm amazed that she got that far, much farther than other people have, so I give her that credit. Maybe I'll be able to read soemthing about Mark Hurd and learn some key points from him also.

Posted on Jan 2, 2013 2:24:58 PM PST
Compaq guy, in reading your review, my take home message is that the reality of Ms. Fiorina's management and her presentation of it in the book are divergent. In other words, the book is largely unbelievable. So, why give it four stars? Two stars, maybe, for a good read, but any more than that just confuses me. Best wishes, and thanks for posting your inside information.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 1, 2013 12:26:54 PM PDT
Vmax99 says:
I have to agree, I was surprised at the number of stars as well especially being an ex-HP employee but I escaped to the spinoff Agilent. It was a sad day when Carly became CEO and a hell of a party when she left! Ding Dong...

Posted on Dec 9, 2013 3:35:00 PM PST
Don Reed says:
"I was an HP employee after the Compaq merger and had worked prior to that at both Digital and Tandem."

Rarely does writing so swiftly get off on the wrong foot as with the above sentence.

"The Compaq merger."

Involving which two companies?
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