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Following that conversation, she received a phone call from HP board member Jeff Christian in February 1999; nonetheless, Fiorina was almost certain the HP board would not offer her the available CEO position for a number of reasons: She had never held the position before, she did not have a background in engineering, she wasn't from the industry and she was a woman. On July 19, 1999, Fiorina was proved wrong as HP publicly announced her succession of Lewis Platt as CEO.
Law School Dropout to CEO
After earning her B.A. in medieval history and philosophy from Stanford University, Fiorina completed a short stint at UCLA Law School, dropping out after she realized that law wasn't the career for her and that she couldn't always please her parents with her choices.
Fiorina joined the business world, spending her first 20 years cutting her teeth and climbing the corporate ladder at AT&T and Lucent Technologies before accepting the challenge to lead, as CEO and eventually as chairman, the technology giant Hewlett-Packard. To many people she had seemed an unlikely candidate, but Fiorina managed to lead HP through a number of large internal changes, a significant technology slump, and the Compaq merger, which is considered one of the most controversial mergers in the industry.
While many remember the former Hewlett-Packard CEO as the woman who opted for 7,000 layoffs during the 2001 business downturn, Fiorina positions herself more sympathetically in the book, proclaiming her belief that "in the end, business isn't just about numbers; it's about people." She was not the only one behind terminations at the company. She writes, "One of the great myths of HP was that employees never lost their jobs. The truth was Bill [Hewlett] and Dave [Packard] fired people when they thought it was deserved."
Leadership Has Nothing to Do With Title
Throughout the book, Fiorina offers her business wisdom and personal advice in a palatable style. While at AT&T, one of the women engineers in Fiorina's team came to her, conflicted over raising a family as well as maintaining a career. Fiorina told her, "You cannot sell your soul. Don't become someone you don't like because of the pressure. Live your life in a way that makes you happy and proud. If you sell your soul, no one can pay you back."
In reference to her time spent at Lucent and the leadership roles she experienced, Fiorina claimed,"I have believed all my life that leadership has nothing to do with title or position. Leadership is about the integrity of one's character, the caliber of one's capabilities and the effectiveness of one's collaboration with others. Anyone can lead from anywhere at any time."
On February 9, 2005, Fiorina was fired by the HP board. She writes, "Life isn't always fair, and I was playing in the big leagues. Yet I realized I had no regrets ... I had made mistakes, but I had made a difference."
Why We Like This Book
For those readers who have not followed Fiorina's career - most notably her termination from HP - Tough Choices provides a relatable tale that anyone could enjoy, male or female, business savvy or not. Using her straightforward style, Fiorina allows readers into her life, showing them her professional achievements over the decades and drawing them into her personal life as a daughter, wife and stepmother. Copyright © 2007 Soundview Executive Book Summaries
The meeting lasted less than three minutes. I asked for a few hours to think and I left the room.
I believe the truth is always the best answer, whatever the consequences. Less than two hours later I sent a message to the new chairman saying we should tell the truth: the Board had fired me. When the announcement was made, I simply said, "While I regret that the Board and I had differences over the execution of the strategy, I respect their decision. HP is a great company and I wish the people of HP all the best."
I had always known I might lose my job. I was playing a high-stakes game with powerful people and powerful interests, but I had not expected the end to come in this way. I knew we were on the verge of reaping tremendous benefits from all our hard work, and I thought the Board knew this too. I wanted so much to be able to gather my team one last time and tell them how proud I was of all we had accomplished together. My heart ached that I was not give an opportunity to say good-bye to the people of HP, whom I had grown to love.
I knew the announcement would be big news. I was a woman, and a bold one at that, and things had always been different for me. All the criticisms that had ever been leveled against me would be recycled and thrown back in my face with new delight: "She's too flashy." "She's just marketing fluff." "She's too controlling." "She's a publicity hound." "The merger was her idea and it was the wrong thing to do." "She's imperious, vindictive and employees didn't like her." The coverage would go on and on, and the critiques would not be balanced against the facts or my contributions or the positive changes that had been made. It would be ugly and it would be personal.
I knew all this as I steeled myself for the public announcement on February 9, 2005. The reality of the coverage was even worse than I had imagined. It hurt me, but it hurt my family and friends more. I felt lonely, but no lonelier than I'd felt for the past six years. I was deeply sad that fellow Board members I had known and trusted would not pay me the simple respect of looking me in the eye and telling me the truth. I felt betrayed when I considered that some Board members, having spoken outside the boardroom, had broken their duty of confidence to one another and to me.
I felt all these things, but after a lifetime of fears I was not afraid. I had done what I thought was right. I had given everything I had to something I believed in. I had made mistakes, but I had made a difference. I was at peace with my choices and their consequences. My soul was still my own.