We still have a week to go, but it’s already clear that the Most Valuable Player of the Month will be Carly Fiorina. She wins the award because she has done what nobody else has thought to do or, more likely, had the nerve to do. She has said in a loud, clear voice that the Empress has no clothes.
Carly notes that, while the Empress Hillary went to fancy schools, ran expensive campaigns, held high political office, signed her name to multiple autobiographies, generated Kardashian levels of personal publicity and became Romney-rich while serving some never-quite-identified public interest, she hasn’t actually accomplished anything. Carly has uttered an inconvenient truth, you might say.
For performing this public service, Carly got a taste of how the Clinton oppo-team responds to even unexceptionable criticism. It returns fire disproportionately. Just this morning, I found five hit pieces on the Internet, all of them noting with the predictability of a drill team that Carly Fiorina was fired from her last corporate job. The clear implication: Carly Fiorina’s reputation as a successful businesswoman is a myth.
Perhaps this is a teachable moment.
Here’s what happened. After graduating from college, Carly got a job as a receptionist in a small real estate office. Over the next twenty years, she worked hard, learned new skills, took risks, lost sleep and finally won herself a division-level job in big-time corporate America. How often does that happen? I don’t know, but the answer is somewhere between never and not often.
But Carly wasn’t finished, not by a long shot. In her division job, and later in a corporate sales job — at ATT and its tech spinoff, Lucent — she found herself in a particularly unforgiving environment. In those kinds of jobs, you either “make your numbers” or the company finds somebody else who will. Carly made her numbers.
In 1999, she was tapped to be CEO of the struggling high-tech giant, Hewlett Packard. It was a stunning appointment, one of the splashiest business stories of the year. Not just because Carly was a woman. And not just because she sprang from the secretarial pool rather than the management track. It was big news because the company involved was Hewlett Packard, the iconic Fortune 20 company that for a generation had symbolized America’s technological might to the nation and the world. (In Palo Alto, the garage where Stanford classmates Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard soldered their first HP gizmos is now an historic landmark. The little garage on Atherton Avenue is widely considered to be the birthplace of what became known as Silicon Valley.)
Carly was CEO for six years. She cut costs, tried to steady morale, and launched dozens of initiatives, some of them risky and many of them successful. But HP was in big trouble — strategically speaking, it had wandered into a box canyon — and she needed to take a big swing. Reviewing the available options, she decided to acquire a rival computer company, Compaq, to fill in what she and others perceived to be a gap in the HP line of product and service offerings. It was a big swing. The price came in at $25 billion.
Soon after the acquisition, it became painfully clear that Compaq was not the answer to HP’s problems. It was not a good fit. The HP board of directors, a majority of whom had themselves voted in favor of the acquisition, reviewed the deal, concluded that it had been a mistake and moved to impose accountability. Carly Fiorina, the CEO, was fired. (It should be noted in fairness that, a decade later, HP, now under the leadership of the legendary Meg Whitman, has still not found a way out of its strategic bind.)
That’s the way things work in the private economy. That’s the way things should work. For a free society to flourish, success must be recognized and rewarded and failure must be recognized and punished.
Now compare Carly’s story with the story of the Empress.
When Hillary Clinton failed to protect her employees in a U.S. consulate, and then evinced no apparent interest in finding out why they had been murdered — was she fired?
When, after long experience with government employment regulations, she systematically destroyed public records over a period of years — was she fired?
Or when, traveling overseas as our top diplomat to negotiate aid and security protocols, she accepted donations to her private foundation from those same foreign governments — was she fired?
No, unlike Carly Fiorina, Hillary Clinton was not fired from her last job. She served at the pleasure of the President, who seemed well pleased with her performance.
(Mr. Freeman is Senior Advisor to the Tea Party Patriots, to whose members these comments were first addressed.)