Fiorinas Next Stop After HP: The World?

 
 
By Chris Nolan  |  Posted 2005-03-02
 
 
 
Is former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina going to run the World Bank?

Could be. To tech insiders, steeped in gossipy stories about Fiorinas star-driven management style—and its harsh and sudden contrast to HPs previous CEOs—this may seem like a goofy idea. But it makes a lot of sense.

A word of caution: The stories touting Fiorinas taking the bank job are trial balloons. Theyre a way for the Bush Administration to test out its nominees acceptance with various constituencies. Right now, Fiorinas leading over her nearest rival, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. But that could easily change.

If appointed, Fiorina would be the first woman to hold the World Bank presidency. And shed be joining an interesting list of "wise men" that includes John McCloy, generally considered the architect of the United States post-World War II foreign policy, and Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under President Lyndon Johnson.

The World Bank job has always been seen as the ultimate insiders appointment, one that allows the holder to wield the kind of quiet backroom power that makes even experienced politicians jealous. Running HP was a big job. The World Bank presidency is a bigger job.

Click here to read more about Hewlett-Packards current search to replace Fiorina as CEO.

Theres always been background chat about Fiorinas political ambition. Even during the height of the Compaq-HP merger battle, there was quiet talk that she wanted a job in Washington.

The assumption was that shed try and snag an ambassadors gig or maybe a cabinet post, but running the World Bank is an almost perfect fit. And a quick look at a speech she gave at the World Economic Forum last year shows some clever public positioning.

To get the job, Fiorina wont face any messy Senate confirmation hearings. Even if she did, its unlikely theyd be too difficult. Overseeing a bad merger and a falling stock price doesnt mean much to politicians. The World Bank president—right now Paul Wolfensohn, scheduled to retire in June—is nominated by the president of the United States and approved by the banks 189 member nations.

If she gets the job, Fiorina will be free to do as she wants, pretty much. Although the bank has a global economic role and is regularly scrutinized by a host of groups, from development agencies to environmental and labor organizations, its presidents set their own schedules and agendas.

Naming Fiorina would be good politics for the Bush Administration. Fiorina took heat in Silicon Valley for her flashy Armani wardrobe and the attention she paid to her appearance. But by the standards of most politicians, shes an amateur.

More importantly, appointing yet another woman—particularly one who was so unceremoniously dispatched by her board—to a high-profile international job can only help Republicans. In this last election the party attracted support from more female voters than ever before. Clearly they mean to keep them.

Besides, the World Bank would be an almost perfect place for Fiorina to mend her reputation. A stint at a nonprofit, doing good works, is always a good way for a well-known person to improve his or her public standing. And Carly Fiorina is certainly someone who understands the power of good public relations.

There are other reasons to consider Fiorina. Experience is definitely one.

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as the bank is formally known, is a global organization. So was HP.

Created immediately after World War II to help Europeans rebuild the cities, towns and industries that had been destroyed by the war, the bank now focuses on reducing poverty in the developing world.

Its mission—extinguishing economic despair—is high-minded. Similarly, HP has a reputation, at home and abroad, for fair-minded business dealings.

Fiorina may not have gotten high marks at HP, but theres a case to be made that she never would have given the emotional turmoil that surrounded the Compaq merger. And she has run an organization with offices and employees around the world.

That gives her a view of global economics and a real-world grounding thats not easy to find. It is also probably broader in scope—not Euro-centric, more aware of whats going on in Asia, better grounded in the day-to-day realities of economic globalization—and less ideologically driven than a career politicians view.

And lets not forget Fiorinas technological sophistication. It may lag behind the sharpest minds in Silicon Valley, but she is head and shoulders above anyone else in Washington and thats going to count for a lot.

It should. Having someone at the World Bank who really appreciates the interconnectedness of global economics can only be a step in the right direction for the bank and for U.S. foreign policy. Its absence is something the tech community has bemoaned for some time now.

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