Book review: Tough Choices by Carly Fiorina

By Carly Fiorina
Published by Nicholas Brealey
Price £16.99
ISBN: 1857883918

Since the late 1980s, when she first stumbled on Sophocles’ Greek tragedy, Antigone, as part of a course at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Carly Fiorina has put herself through her own private year-end review.

The story of a woman who stays true to her principles despite isolation and ostracism has been the inspiration for almost 20 years for the ex-CEO of Hewlett-Packard “to take the time to examine my own behaviour and motivation…to ask myself whether I am at peace with [my] choices.”

Fiorina’s reflections at the turn of 2006 must include a large measure of satisfaction that many of those at the top of HP who engineered her sacking in early 2005 have been exposed for the highly unethical tactics they sanctioned while pursuing the source of a series of boardroom leaks that undermined her.

Mixed in with that schadenfreude must be a sense of great – if coincidental – timing: that the publication of her memoirs as the HP boardroom scandal broke has made it a surprise bestseller. Lastly, there is the vindication of the strategy she put in place: as the book hit the shelves, the news broke that HP had overtaken IBM as the world’s largest IT vendor.

However, for those looking for a playback of the drama and deceit of Fiorina’s five-year tenure at HP, there is a long wait in Tough Choices. Half the book, chronicles her days at AT&T and Lucent. This is the story of the rapid rise of a law-school dropout through the ranks of the communications giant as she forces her integrity and respect for meritocracy on a world of chauvinism and hierarchies. Given she would become, at HP, the most powerful business woman in the world, that level of detail will be interesting for business school study groups. But most will wish she had applied her microscope to her years at HP.

When the real meat of the story finally kicks in and HP bids for industry leadership through its acquisition of Compaq, there is scant detail on the tough decision she made to push through a combination that would earn her the name ‘Chainsaw Carly’. Indeed, the painful period from 2002 to 2005, when the two were smashed together warrants a mere 32 pages.

As such, she may have chosen the wrong subject. Carly Fiorina’s personal memoirs are well-written and intelligent; however, the real story is not hers, but her role in how HP usurped IBM’s 50-year reign at the top of an industry. That is the higher plane that Sophocles would have sought.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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