Although Carly Fiorina is surging in the polls, don’t expect it to last. While her strong debates have been effective at finally gaining attention, her response to criticism on her record as CEO will cause her to drop in the polls faster than she’s climbed. If she doesn’t change her response soon, she’ll soon follow the path created by Rick Perry and Scott Walker.
Before I get into why, I want to say that I actually really like Fiorina. Her message has been strong, and she has been a great communicator of her message. Her defense of life during the last debates was stronger than any other candidate and forced the media to at least make a mention of the Center for Medical Progress videos that they are all happy to ignore (Wolf Blitzer actually asked Hillary if she would watch them – Hillary didn’t answer). I also love the idea of turning the “attack on woman” argument on its head.
So I am kind of sad that I don’t think she will be a bigger presence in the primaries. Fortunately, there is still time.
The Debate: Her Record as CEO of Hewlett-Packard
If you haven’t yet heard, Carly Fiorina used to be the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, that is until she got fired. Unanimously.
What happened? Well, there are a several really good articles on the topic which you should probably read, but here’s the shortened version: Hewlett-Packard didn’t exactly fare well under her leadership. Neither did the stock price. The board fired her unanimously.
Questions about her record aren’t new – they were the primary attack point of Barbara Boxer who beat Fiorina handily in 2010, despite being a strong year for Republicans.
So Fiorina has had five years to develop a strategy on how to deal with her record as CEO. The result? She’s trying to spin her record into something positive.
Was She a Good CEO?
Asking whether someone is a good CEO is somewhat of an unfair question. They may be a great CEO, but if they make one bad decision, the impact of that decision could cost millions in revenues and thousands of jobs.
And ever since Fiorina entered into politics in 2010, it’s even more difficult to answer whether she was a good CEO. Everyone with an opinion seems to have their own hidden agenda. While one board member took out a full-page ad to admit that he was wrong in agreeing to fire her, other people from her tenure continue to hold bad feelings for Fiorina.
But here is what we do know: overall, the numbers don’t look good. Even if the numbers are being skewed against her unfairly, the numbers will be convincing to an electorate that really doesn’t care about a nuanced argument regarding the stock price of HP.
How Fiorina is Currently Responding
Fiorina has had 5 years to prepare a response to attacks on her record. Barbara Boxer was very effective in battering Fiorina over her tenure as CEO, portraying her as ineffective and insensitive to the common worker.
So it is a bit of a surprise that Fiorina’s approach is to spin her tenure as a major success. At best, an honest approach would be to admit that her decisions were debatable. At best, an honest approach would be to admit that people can disagree with her choices.
Instead of looking on her past objectively, Fiorina is spinning. She claims the company doubled in size – yet this is what happens when you buy a company that is roughly the same size as yours. She is claiming an increase in revenues, but most business owners will tell you revenues are useless if there are no earnings on the other side.
In short, her arguments in favor of her success are weak, especially on the political stage.
It’s Time to Change Tact: Be Humble About Your Past
Fiorina’s record as CEO isn’t as bad as her opponents want you to think, and it’s also not as good as she wants you to think. Ultimately, her decision to acquire Compaq was a mistake, and she should have the humility to recognize that.
Making mistakes, especially when making big, bold moves is certainly excusable. Fiorina shouldn’t shy away from her record as CEO, she should embrace it on many levels.
First, she wasn’t afraid to make big, bold moves. Obviously she wasn’t the only person in favor of the acquisition as it was agreed to by the board. Having the courage to make such a recommendation during an economically difficult time took courage.
Second, there is a lot to learn from her mistakes. Fiorina cannot spin the fact that she was unanimously fired by the board of HP. This needs to be one of her big talking points: just how much did she learn through being fired? What mistakes did she make? How would she ensure those mistakes are not repeated? Leaders own their mistakes so as not to repeat them in the future.
Third, she should point to the debate, not her opinion. By being the biggest champion of her record, Fiorina falls into the trap of appearing like another politician – spinning and lying her way through cherry-picking favorable numbers to support her success. She would be far better served by simply pointing to the fact that there is a lot of debate on the topic of her time at HP.
The Next 1-2 Months Will Be Telling
Since her stellar debate performance, Fiorina surged in the polls. With that surge comes much more attention on her past. There is no running away from her past – she has to own it.
Fiorina brings a lot of potentially great qualities to the race. She’s already proven herself to be quite formidable and a skilled debater. She shows very strong command of the issues, and she could certainly skew the electorate into her favor if she were nominated.
But she first must address her past, and spinning it away into a dream simply won’t work.