With the BP oil spill, the nation is currently witnessing one of the worst acts of corporate negligence—or crime—in history. This eco-nightmare is occurring during a time of economic trouble triggered by brazen corporate malfeasance in the financial sector. So it might not be a good moment for a politician to be a CEO. Yet in California, Republican voters on Tuesday flocked to two self-financing ex-corporate honchos, selecting ex-eBay CEO Meg Whitman to be the party’s gubernatorial candidate (to face onetime Democratic governor and current state Attorney General Jerry Brown) and picking ex-Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina to be the party’s senatorial candidate (to take on Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer). Whitman might make some sense as a candidate, given that she left the corporate world with a solid reputation, having presided over massive growth that brought eBay from a company of 30 employees to one of 15,000 workers (though she engaged in controversial "spinning" while a member of the board of Goldman Sachs.) Yet Carly Fiorina had a controversial, if not troubled tenure, at HP. Which raises the question: what are Californian GOPers (and Sarah Palin) thinking?
Fiorina, a marketing and sales expert, took over HP in 1999, as the tech boom was ending. Her solution to the company's many problems at the time was engineering a $19 billion acquisition of Compaq—a move opposed by many HP stockholders and that ultimately was not widely regarded as a slam-dunk. On her watch, HP downsized and canned almost 18,000 employees—as Fiorina joined with other corporate execs to defend outsourcing and oppose measures that would limit this practice. After six years in the job, she was pushed out, but her departure was eased by a $21 million severance package. On the day she was dumped, the company's stock price went up 7 percent. CBS News technology analyst Larry Magin noted,
There is plenty to criticize about Fiorina's tenure at HP. At this point, the changes that Fiorina made didn't turn out so well for the thousands of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq employees that were laid off and the millions of HP stockholders who lost equity since she took over. HP stock is worth less today than it was in 1999. Dell and IBM stock has increased in value.
Fiorina ended up symbolizing not one but three excesses of the corporate elite: mergers-and-acquisition mania, outsourcing, and golden parachutes. Yet during the Republican Senate campaign, this former corporate insider re-marketed herself as an anti-establishment Tea Partier, even though one of her foes in the primary contest, Assemblyman Chuck Devore, had a stronger claim on the Tea Party label. (Fiorina was helped in the who’s-the-Tea-Partiest-of-them-all competition when Palin endorsed her.)