Former Intel CEO Craig Barrett says ex-HP CEO Carly Fiorina, now running for the U.S. Senate, is being unfairly criticised for her time at the helm of the computer giant
In an op-ed column in the San Jose Mercury News on 4 April, Intel’s Craig Barrett defended Fiorina’s tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, particularly her controversial decision to buy Compaq Computer for $25 billion (£16bn) in 2002.
The move faced a lot of skepticism from inside and outside the company, and drew the ire of some of the HP heirs. It has come back into play now that Fiorina has kicked off her campaign to unseat incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
With no real political experience to speak of, much of Fiorina’s focus—and that of her rivals—has centered on her six-year tenure as HP’s CEO, which ended in 2005 after a dispute with the company’s board of directors regarding direction and strategy.
Most recently, Fiorina has come under fire from HP heir Arianna Packard, who took some hard shots at Fiorina in a letter to several senators who backed her candidacy.
“I know a little about Carly Fiorina, having watched her almost destroy the company my grandfather founded,” Packard said in the letter sent to conservative Website Redstate.com. “You write that she is a ‘proven business leader.’ This may be how she spins her career, but most business commentators consider Fiorina’s tenure at HP to be a disaster.”
Later, California newspapers noted that HP’s PAC (political action committee) donated $10,000 to Boxer’s campaign.
In his column, Barrett said Fiorina showed foresight and leadership during her time at HP, particularly during the recession following the dot-com bust. Many CEOs ran and hid, he said. Fiorina looked at the landscape, saw that the computer industry needed to be consolidated and merged with Compaq in the largest deal in the high-tech industry.
“The merger of HP and Compaq was an unqualified success. It helped transform HP into the largest computer manufacturer in the world and provided a strong foundation for HP’s current success under its very capable management team,” Barrett wrote. “Carly Fiorina, the architect of the HP-Compaq merger and now a candidate for U.S. Senate, deserves great credit for her actions while CEO of HP. She understood the challenges of the marketplace, the dangers of the status quo and the need for companies to move forward with bold actions to ensure their success.”
He credited the work of current HP President and CEO Mark Hurd and his management team, but said they are being helped by the foundation that Fiorina put into place.
“Throughout the merger, Carly had her detractors,” Barrett wrote. “Some of them persist even today. It has been said that she abandoned the original vision of HP founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard and that she ignored their core values like ‘meaningful innovation,’ ‘speed and agility,’ and ‘a passion for customers.’
“From my perspective, these critiques just do not match the facts. HP has always been and still is an innovative company bringing great products into the market. HP has always been customer-focused. What did change was a dramatic move to ensure HP’s future in a world where living in the past and refusing to move forward was a recipe for mediocrity or worse.”
Fiorina is being challenged for the GOP nomination by Chuck DeVore, a Republican state assemblyman to whom Arianna Packard has contributed money, and Tom Campbell, a former Republican Congressman who in January stepped down from the governor’s race to run against Fiorina and DeVore.
In the governor’s race, Campbell was facing another high-tech CEO in Meg Whitman, who turned to politics after retiring from eBay.