Let’s start out by saying I was anything but a huge fan of Carly Fiorina when she was CEO of HP, but everything is relative and I’ve come to look at most politicians as largely incapable managers who promise things they can’t deliver. What makes a CEO different, particularly one who worked their way to the top (didn’t get there with daddy’s money) is that they know how to make promises they can meet and know the importance of keeping promises.
As a result most successful self-built CEOs wouldn’t even consider politics because the same practices that made them successful as CEOs would stand against their election and that, I think, is why most wouldn’t touch one of these things with a ten foot pole. So we are generally left with a pool of candidates that have never managed 100 people let alone have the skills to manage a million and you’d be hard pressed to find a company with the number of employees or management issues of the U.S. Government.
Let’s talk why Carly Fiorina may be the best choice to run the U.S. Government in a mixed field of candidates.
The Experience of Working Up to Becoming an Executive
Politics tends to be more about who you know than what you know; business tends to be the opposite though both career paths benefit from breadth. For instance the successful politician often needs to actually know a lot about their state and constituents and the successful executive is very well connected. Executives that advance based on brown nosing their superiors tend to become nightmares for their companies at some point and thankfully tend to be exceptions and not the rule, while with politicians it is the rule not the exception.
While clearly Carly Fiorina needed to know what butts to kiss to advance, in watching her after she became an executive, part of her problem was that she drew strong lines when it came to something she wanted to do. Clearly she didn’t kiss the butts of her board when she felt strongly that HP needed to buy Compaq and did successfully execute what was believed to be an impossible merger over the objections and eventual proxy fight with her own board.
When supporting McCain she got booted because when she was asked whether Palin or McCain could run a multi-national company she answered truthfully “no” rather than lying and saying “yes” which would have been the far smarter though far less truthful answer.
I don’t think you can truly be honest and get elected but think, given Fiorina’s history and background, she may be more truthful than most.
Oil vs. Tech
The country’s political power has typically come from oil and I’m one of the folks that believes this substance is killing us as a nation and individually. Fiorina is from the technology segment and while we have our own polluting issues from time to time, for the most part it is our industry that is most aggressive at cleaning things up. I think the country’s future will be more due to companies like Tesla and Elon Musk than those of Exxon or Shell Oil. Fiorina is from the tech segment so she is one of ours and enabling and pushing technology over oil will, I believe, have a lot to do with whether we have long and healthy lives.
Wrapping Up: Not a Chance in Hell
One of the interesting things about people is that they often don’t learn critical lessons. Fiorina needs a strong #2 that can execute. She is long on ideas and strategy but execution has always been her weakness. This seemed to be at the heart of her performance issues at HP, her failed attempt to become a Senator, and it has already raised its ugly head in her early campaign. Apparently she didn’t tie up all of the domain names connected to her and one is now focused on highlighting the number of people she laid off. I think the reason Fiorina fails is that she is unwilling to share credit, and with all her experience, this is a terminal failing.
You can’t get elected and you certainly can’t run a company or a country alone. One of the big things that makes the CEO role different than any lower role is they have to be cheerleaders for their staff and company and be less focused on seizing personal credit. This is the one critical CEO lesson that Fiorina has not learned and that will likely assure, regardless of her other qualities, she isn’t successful in politics. It’s a shame because I think we’d be far better off with an experienced CEO level manager than an experienced politician, but odds are we’ll end up with the latter.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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