Carly Fiorina's HP Legacy

For someone who is running around the country these days portraying herself as a victim, Carly Fiorina is actually one very lucky lady.

Thanks to the boardroom scandal at her old company, Hewlett-Packard, there is a renewed interest in her controversial tenure as CEO/chairwoman of that company -- enough interest to land her interview segments on last Sunday's "60 Minutes," on this morning's "Good Morning America" and a second print run on her new book, "Tough Choices."

Better yet, because the recent HP scandal centers on Patricia Dunn, the woman who replaced her as chairwoman, and involves many of the same players, Fiorina is now free to utter dark implications that her own case really involved secret conspiracies and sexism -- and actually have a few suckers out there believe her.

What Patricia Dunn did was idiotic and illegal, and she was obviously in over her head as chairwoman of the board. But, by all indications, she let her obsession with protecting HP and her duties to corporate governance take her over the line into breaking the law. Everything she did was for the company, not her own self-aggrandizement.

No one can ever say that last line about Carly Fiorina, the very embodiment of the dot-com boom corporate superstar. One is hard-pressed to think of anything she did during her time at either Lucent or HP that wasn't designed to burnish her own image -- at the sacrifice of anyone who got in her way. Indeed, that's exactly what she's doing now with her self-exculpatory book: blaming the victims -- that is, everyone but herself -- for her failings as a manager.

There is one more way that Fiorina is lucky. Just as she managed to skip out of Lucent right before the Feds arrived, so too has she been out of HP just long enough for the media not to draw too many connections between the scandal and the pestilential culture she created at the company. Only a few reporters have noted that the leaks began during the last days of Fiorina at Hewlett-Packard, when her policies and personality had turned the board into an armed camp, etched with paranoia and divided against itself.

It was from this poisonous stew that the scandal emerged -- a passive-aggressive Dunn, faced with what appeared to be a mutinous board, instead of confronting the directors head-on, instead decided to become Inspector Javert behind the scenes. That this little fiasco took a year to play out guaranteed that Fiorina would be far enough from the blast zone to point at the smoking crater and be able to claim, not that she helped set the process in motion but that she was the first victim of this evil cabal.

For all her attempts to rewrite history, there are certain facts that Fiorina cannot escape. The first is that in the only plebiscite on her leadership -- the proxy vote over the acquisition of Compaq Computer -- HP employees, men and women, repudiated her. Fiorina may claim now that HP's current strong business is the product of her strategy -- a dubious claim in itself -- but the fact is that the first requirement of corporate leadership is to get the employees to follow. At that, she failed miserably.

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