Carly Fiorina reportedly is looking to see if her time as Hewlett-Packard’s CEO, a 10-point loss in her only political race and her increasing involvement in Republican Party politics for the past decade or so will be enough to elevate her above what promises to be a crowded GOP field and give her a shot at the White House.
According to The Washington Post, the 60-year-old Fiorina is “actively exploring” a presidential run for 2016, seeing the possibility of gaining some attention as a business executive and woman in a roster of possible Republican candidates that is made up of male politicians. The Post reported that Fiorina is meeting with party activists, donors and organizers in such key states as New Hampshire and Iowa.
She is getting on the GOP speaking tour—including the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February 2015—running a political action committee, the Unlocking Potential PAC, and making the rounds on inside-the-Beltway TV talk shows. Fiorina fueled speculation about her intentions last month when she was asked on Meet the Press about her ambitions for 2016. Her reply: “When people keep asking you over and over again, you have to pause and reflect, so I’ll pause and reflect at the right time.”
Fiorina comes with a good story. She rose from her first position as a secretary at Lucent to become the first woman to run a Fortune 50 company when she was appointed CEO of tech giant HP. However, it was a tumultuous six years at the company, highlighted by HP’s $20 billion acquisition of rival PC maker Compaq. It pitted Fiorina against some of the heirs of HP’s founders, in particular William Hewlett’s son, Walter Hewlett, who unsuccessfully went to court to stop the deal.
The move enabled HP to push past Dell to become the world’s top PC maker, a position it held until Lenovo knocked it off the perch last year. It also came as PCs became increasingly commoditized and the market began to consolidate through such deals as IBM selling its PC business to Lenovo and Acer buying Gateway, which earlier had bought eMachines. Now HP, under CEO Meg Whitman, has begun to split in two, with the PC and printer business separating from the enterprise business.
After the Compaq deal came several quarters of unstable financial numbers and share prices and more than 10,000 layoffs, and in 2005, HP directors forced her to resign, giving her a $21 million severance package. In a Nov. 20 blog post on his Website, GOP political consultant Karl Rove, in outlining the strengths and weaknesses of almost two-dozen possible candidates, wrote that Fiorina “is a businesswoman who broke the glass ceiling in 1999 by becoming Hewlett-Packard’s CEO, but she will have to explain why the HP board dismissed her in 2005.”
She became more politically active after leaving HP, working as an advisor in Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign in 2008. A year later, she battled breast cancer, including undergoing a double mastectomy. In 2010, a good year for the GOP in which the party regained control of the House of Representatives, she lost her only political campaign, garnering 42 percent of the vote in an unsuccessful bid to oust incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). (It was the same year that Whitman, then retired as CEO of eBay, lost in her campaign for California governor to Jerry Brown. She became HP CEO in 2011.)
According to reports, the Senate campaign is still haunting Fiorina. She reportedly still owes about $500,000 to consultants and campaign staffers. During her Senate bid, she also was criticized for her poor record in voting in state and federal elections.
Whether her business experience and political work will help her rise above the GOP din remains to be seen. The Republican Party is expected to field a broad range of candidates, from such names as N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and (possibly) former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to outgoing Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). There’s no clear frontrunner, but it will make for crowded stage during debates.