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Tough Choices: A Memoir Hardcover – October 9, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

For her six years as CEO of technology giant Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina was one of the most public faces in business, consistently chosen as the most powerful woman in corporate America. But after being ousted by the HP board of directors in early 2005, she stepped away from the spotlight. She returns to the public eye with her new memoir, Tough Choices, the story of her tenure at HP and of her unprecedented--and unexpected--rise to the top. While much of the early attention to the book will no doubt focus on her battles with the HP board and her dismissal--and she lays out her side of that story in full detail--what is more likely to give her book a wide and lasting readership is her account of the choices she made to get to that point. As she says, she never expected to become a captain of industry; she never planned to go into business at all. But what she found, as she tells in a straightforward, personal style, was that she had a talent and a taste for working with people and making the kinds of decisions that business leadership requires. In a series of "tough choices" that give her book its name, she gravitated toward the most challenging paths that were offered her. Those choices, which many around her told her not to make, were what led her to the top in record time.

She visited the Amazon.com offices to give a talk to our employees about the book before it was published, and we were so impressed with what she had to say--and the open and focused way she said it--that we wanted to share some of her visit with you. Click on the image below to watch a section of her talk that explains what fear and choice have to do with leadership:

Watch Carly Fiorina talk about Tough Choices

Two Tough Choices

We also asked her to tell us here about two of the many tough choices she writes about in the book:

Amazon.com: Why did you decide to drop out of law school, and why was that a hard decision?

Fiorina: I went to UCLA Law School mainly because my father was a lawyer and he encouraged me to follow in his footsteps. From the very first day it left me cold. Although I could respect the law, I felt no passion for it. I had terrible headaches every day and barely slept for months.

When my father came to visit, I told him I hated it. He was concerned, but he didn't want me to quit. He had always taught me that quitting was the same as failure--you stuck it out, even in a tough situation. And so, although I had planned to tell him I'd decided to leave law school, I didn't. I went back and stuck it out for another month.

Then I came home one weekend to visit. I was in turmoil. As dramatic as it sounds, I had an epiphany while taking a shower on Sunday morning. My body had been trying to tell me something with all those months of headaches. I suddenly realized I had no idea why I was in law school at all. At twenty-two, at that moment, it finally dawned on me that my life couldn't be about pleasing my parents.

I think of that as the day I grew up. I had made a truly difficult decision on my own.

Amazon.com: Tell us about the time when you were a junior sales person at AT&T, and you had to choose whether or not to attend a meeting at a strip club.

Fiorina: One day my senior colleague, David, let me know that the two of our most important customers were coming to town for a meeting. I was delighted. It would be great to have my first introduction to these customers come from a veteran like him.

The day before the meeting, David came to my cubicle. "You know, Carly, I'm really sorry. I know we'd planned to have you meet the two directors. The thing is, they have a favorite restaurant here in D.C., and they've requested that we meet there. It's the Board Room. So I don't think you'll be able to join us."

This didn't make any sense to me, until someone else explained that the Board Room was an upscale strip club for businessmen. Between acts, the young women who worked there would dress in see-through baby-doll negligees and dance on top of the tables while the patrons ate lunch.

I was both very embarrassed and very anxious. I sat in the ladies' room to think about it in private, and worked myself into a state of near panic. I had no idea what I was supposed to do in this situation. I couldn't tell myself it didn’t matter--it clearly was important to meet these clients and to convince David that I should be taken seriously. It never occurred to me to be outraged and demand that they not go--and that wouldn't have worked anyway.

Finally, I went to David's desk and said, "You know, I hope it won't make you too uncomfortable, but I think I'm going to go to lunch anyway. I'll meet you all there." You could have heard a pin drop in the office as everyone watched this scenario unfold.

What happened the next day at the strip club is a funny story, but I'll save that one for the book.

From Publishers Weekly

[Signature]Reviewed by Robin WolanerFiorina may have had tough choices, but readers have an easy one: start at page 150 and read the Hewlett-Packard story first. As Carly Fiorina, the famously fired CEO of HP, vividly dissects the company's business, board and structural problems, her management views and talents are clearly visible. She also makes a compelling case for why she deserves some credit for the 2005–2006 turnaround. Less compelling are her claims that her introduction as CEO of HP was marred because "the one question we didn't prepare for was the question most frequently asked... about my gender." (Uh-huh.) When Fiorina dishes the board members, it's delish, especially when citing George "Jay" Keyworth's stated belief that "anyone who had leaked confidential Board conversations to the press shouldn't be allowed in the boardroom." (A wonderful irony since he initially refused to resign during the recent HP scandal when he was revealed as the source of confidential leaks.) Much of what Fiorina writes about the board will be in the news around this book's release, but her revelations are valuable beyond gossip—because shareholders are demanding accountability from boards, it's fascinating to be inside a deeply dysfunctional boardroom. And it's just plain fun to see her settle some scores.The start of her memoir, however, is a tedious telling of her rise through the corporate ranks at AT&T and Lucent. It's not clear exactly what the business challenges were—the main thing she emphasizes about Lucent is her fondness for the "bold, red logo." These early chapters are filled with numbing passages: "In other words, our value-add would be to get everyone on the same page. Any organization is stronger when people are aligned to act together, instead of working at cross-purposes."While I didn't come away with a sense of Carly Fiorina's personality—much of what she writes about herself is unconvincing—her book does shed light on the complexities of running a giant corporation. I also learned that I'd bought into media coverage of Carly Fiorina that was superficial at best and misleading at worst. I owe her an apology for that, and she owes her readers one for not hiring (or heeding) a good editor to make her message more riveting. (Oct. 9)Robin Wolaner is the founder of Parenting magazine, former CEO of Sunset Publishing and author of Naked in the Boardroom: A CEO Bares Her Secrets So You Can Transform Your Career (Fireside, 2005).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover; First Edition edition (October 9, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159184133X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591841333
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (155 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #991,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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.
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Format: Hardcover
I thought this book was an opportunity to gain more insight into the tumultuous changes in hp during her reign. Unfortunately, it seemed a self serving story with little evidence of honest insight. It seemed more of a reflection of critisicm. Far too few examples of honest responsibility for some demonstrably poor decisions.
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Format: Hardcover
Having lived through the Carly era at AT&T/Lucent, she definitely has a revisionist, rather than unbiased, view of the impact of her actions. She is truly charismatic, bright and riveting to watch and interact with. Through her career; however, she has consistently made poor decisions in terms of contracts, partnerships, acquisitions, organizational structure -you name it. The key criteria was that it make a splash and look good at the time, although many of her key decisions had long-term negative consequences. (Note the vendor financing scandals at Lucent, which she excaped before that exploded.) The impact of those decisions never marred her reputation, as she was always on to the next rung of the ladder. Her ending at HP was inevitable and, even now, she can't see that she has always been about perception versus reality. It is a shame that such a talent couldn't have focused on real business growth and achievement rather than focusing on their self-promotion. In that regard, I find her to be very representative of US business (and other) culture where perception is everything. In the end,she does not represent a particularly uplifting model for female leadership, as she fully bought into the prevailing system, which desperately needs to be changed.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm very glad I took the time to read Carly Fiorina's memoir, Tough Choices. I feel I know her after reading it, and am even more certain than I already was that she would make an excellent President of the United States. She is a leader who understands the importance of making the right decisions, even when that might be unpopular. She knows how to be fiscally responsible with large amounts of money, and how to organize and manage many groups of people, always considering the best outcome for everyone involved. She understands coming to consensus, as well as the art of compromise, and keeps her actions and attitudes positive, without the typical back biting we've unfortunately come to expect from politicians. The fact that she isn't a politician is one of her greatest assets, in my opinion. Perhaps she could bring a new, positive meaning to the word politician, which would be very welcome. Go, Carly!!!
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Format: Hardcover
As a 21-year HP veteran who survived the Carly "cult of personality" years, I would describe this book as self-serving hogwash. In my opinion, her abrupt dispatch was the much deserved result of arrogance and incompetence, not sexism. In thousands of conversations with other HP employees during those five years, not once did I hear disparaging comments regarding her gender. The merger with Compaq was of dubious business value but allowed her to place her mark on this venerated company while diluting a culture based on egalitarianism and merit. HP missed quarter after quarter under Carly's leadership, the stock price dropped by 75%, and she blames everyone but herself. New CEO Mark Hurd demonstrated a more thorough understanding of the HP businesses during his first employee meeting than Carly ever had, and won back much of the employee drive and dedication that Carly squandered. HP hasn't missed a quarter since and the stock price has more than doubled. Carly bolstered HP's sagging brand, to be sure; spin is her specialty. But it seemed to employees that Carly then usurped the brand for her own personal glory. Carly eliminated thousands of competent and loyal HP employees who didn't get $42M golden parachutes, so please spare us the crocodile tears. Avoiding this book shouldn't be a Tough Choice for anyone.
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