Carly Fiorina

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Carly Fiorina’s disastrous stretch as Hewlett-Packard’s CEO can be summed up thusly: a huge debacle, a golden parachute, a long period of inactivity. Now she’s trying to ride failure and inertia to the White House, and in this strange era of anti-politics, she’s actually one of the Republican frontrunners, seemingly rewarded for her lack of government experience.

Fiorina namechecked Steve Jobs at the most recent GOP debate, trying to get a posthumous rub from our era’s most-celebrated businessperson. Steven Levy, having written the book on the iPod (quite literally), recalls in a Backchannel article how the Apple chief defeated Fiorina in a landslide in the two companies’ dealings. Let’s put it this way: Steve Jobs would have been a terrible President, and the person he clearly outmaneuvered maybe shouldn’t get the gig, either.

From Levy:

Ms. Fiorina’s trainwreck stint at HP has been well documented. But I want to address one tiny but telling aspect of her misbegotten reign: an episode that involved her good friend Steve Jobs. It is the story of the HP iPod.

The iPod, of course, was Apple’s creation, a groundbreaking digital music player that let you have “a music library in your pocket.” Introduced in 2001, it gained steam over the next few years and by the end of 2003, the device was a genuine phenomenon. So it was news that in January 2004, Steve Jobs and Carly Fiorina made a deal where HP could slap its name on Apple’s wildly successful product. Nonetheless, HP still managed to botch things. It could not have been otherwise, really, because Steve Jobs totally outsmarted the woman who now claims she can run the United States of America.

I can talk about this with some authority. Not only have I written a book about the iPod, but I interviewed Fiorina face to face when she introduced the HP iPod at the 2004 Consumer Electronics Show, and then got Steve Jobs’s side of the story.•


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When people defend CEO pay, they often argue that business leaders like Steve Jobs deserve every cent they get, without mentioning how these are the most extreme outliers. There are also CEOs like probable Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, who did a really cruddy job running Hewlett-Packard, collected a monumental golden parachute when she was fired and was safely out the door when thousands of employees lost their jobs. Okay, maybe she’s an outlier also, but your average company leader isn’t an innovator (that word) but a steward. They’re very overpaid.

Automation has allowed many of these corporate titans to reduce staff over the past decade and the practice will likely continue apace, but that blade has two edges, and the received wisdom of the importance of the CEO will likely be threatened by technology as well. 

From Devin Fidler at Harvard Business Review:

For the last several years, we have been studying the forces now shaping the future of work, and wondering whether high-level management could be automated. This inspired us to create prototype software we informally dubbed “iCEO.” As the name suggests, iCEO is a virtual management system that automates complex work by dividing it into small individual tasks. iCEO then assigns these micro-tasks to workers using multiple software platforms, such as oDesk, Uber, and email/text messaging. Basically, the system allows a user to drag-and-drop “virtual assembly lines” into place, and run them from a dashboard.

But could iCEO manage actual work projects for our organization? After a few practice runs, we were ready to find out. For one task, we programmed iCEO to oversee the preparation of a 124-page research report for a prestigious client (a Fortune 50 company). We spent a few hours plugging in the parameters of the project, i.e. structuring the flow of tasks, then hit play. For instance, to create an in-depth assessment of how graphene is produced, iCEO asked workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to curate a list of articles on the topic. After duplicates were removed, the list of articles was passed on to a pool of technical analysts from oDesk, who extracted and arranged the articles’ key insights. A cohort of Elance writers then turned these into coherent text, which went to another pool of subject matter experts for review, passing them on to a sequence of oDesk editors, proofreaders, and fact checkers.

iCEO routed tasks across 23 people from around the world, including the creation of 60 images and graphs, followed by formatting and preparation. We stood back and watched iCEO execute this project. We rarely needed to intervene, even to check the quality of individual components of the report as they were submitted to iCEO, or spend time hiring staff, because QA and HR were also automated by iCEO. (The hiring of oDesk contractors for this project, for example, was itself an oDesk assignment.)

We were amazed by the quality of the end result — and the speed with which it was produced.•

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The best and brightest people I’ve met in my life haven’t been the most successful ones. America doesn’t work that way now. It probably never did, but it seems to be getting worse. What people believe to be a promise has become, at best, a lottery ticket.

I watched Carly Fiorina on TV the other day extolling Mitt Romney’s great command of facts and figures at the first Presidential debate. Like, say, his assertion that half of the clean tech companies that the President invested stimulus money in had gone belly up. Except that isn’t close to the truth. From what I can gather, more than 90% of those companies have thus far been successful. That’s an amazing rate. Far better than Romney’s record at Bain and far, far better than Fiorina’s lousy tenure at Hewlett-Packard. I’m all for inventors and creators and builders making good, but you have to question a system that so richly rewards an executive like Fiorina, who contributes little, or Romney, who doesn’t acknowledge he had a huge advantage in a very uneven playing field because of family money and connections. The disconnect between such people and most Americans is enormous.

Economist Joseph Stiglitz has been calling bullshit on the situation for some time now. From a recent Q&A with him at Spiegel


The US has always thought of itself as a land of opportunity where people can go from rags to riches. What has become of the American dream?


This belief is still powerful, but the American dream has become a myth. The life chances of a young US citizen are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in any other advanced industrial country for which there is data. The belief in the American dream is reinforced by anecdotes, by dramatic examples of individuals who have made it from the bottom to the top — but what matters most are an individual’s life chances. The belief in the American dream is not supported by the data.


What do the numbers suggest?


There has been no improvement in well-being for the typical American family for 20 years. On the other side, the top one percent of the population gets 40 percent more in one week than the bottom fifth receive in a full year. In short, we have become a divided society. America has created a marvelous economic machine, but most of the benefits have gone to the top.”

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