Fiorina fields HP questions at Silicon Valley forum

Former HP Chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina defended her tenure at the company and the Compaq merger during an appearance Thursday in California

Former Hewlett-Packard (HP) chief executive Carly Fiorina says the changes she made at HP have yet to play out in the marketplace so it's too soon to assess her impact, or that of her successor, Mark Hurd, on the company.

"It's not about me versus Mark or who gets the credit. The legacy will take four or five years to be clear," Fiorina said in Silicon Valley Thursday to promote "Tough Choices: A Memoir," a book about her career, including five and a half years as president, chief executive officer and chairman of the technology firm.

Fiorina was fired by HP's board in February 2005, about three years after completion of the merger she pushed between HP and Compaq Computer Corp. HP's stock price languished in the wake of the US$19 billion merger, there were problems with integration of the two companies and HP missed one quarterly earnings estimate by a sizable 23 percent on her watch. Since Hurd replaced her in April 2005, the company's stock price has doubled and its revenue and profitability increased. It is now set to end fiscal 2006 with more than US$90 billion in revenue.

But Fiorina questioned the notion that her leadership wasn't working and that Hurd turned things around.

"Missing a quarter is not a good thing, but a transformation is not a 90-day process," Fiorina said to an audience of about 400 people at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. And even though HP is now competitive with IBM and Dell, "it didn't just happen in the last 12 months [that Hurd has been CEO]." Transforming HP was "like turning an oceanliner ... not a jet ski," she said.

Fiorina signed copies of her book, which chronicles her career culminating in her hiring in 1999 as HP's CEO and chairman, which made her an icon for women in the business world.

"Carly is such an important role model for so many of us," said Chris Melching, chief executive officer of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives, who attended the forum. "She's all about the importance of being true to yourself."

Fiorina only touched briefly on the scandal currently confronting HP, the filing of state criminal charges against ousted chairman Patricia Dunn, an HP lawyer and three private detectives, for allegedly using illegal methods to obtain phone records to track down the source of leaks from the HP board to the media. Fiorina learned her own phone records had been obtained under false pretenses. She investigated board leaks when she was at the company, too.

The phone records scandal is just the most recent example of what Fiorina called a "dysfunctional board" that she also had to deal with when she was chairman and CEO.

A group becomes dysfunctional, "when people can't put disagreements on the table," she said. "When people can no longer speak plainly about tough issues ... bad things happen."

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