Did Carly Really Fail?
Now that the dust is beginning to settle on Carly's ouster from HP, it is interesting to see the analsys on where she went wrong. There are plenty of missteps and shortcomings to blame: from the missed earnings targets to the languishing stock price to the intense struggle with the Compaq merger.
But all of this critique begs the question of why Carly was hired into HP in the first place. Carly Fiorina was the first CEO of Hewlett Packard hired from outside the company. Her charge was to turn around the slumbering giant. But all leaders seek to drive change. Was Carly's selection for the top spot any different?
A recent commentary in Business Week reveals the extent to which she had a deep mandate from the board to transform the culture. Sam Ginn was the head of the HP Board CEO Search Committee at the time. According to Business Week, Ginn made it clear very early in the interview process that "The first thing we have to do is get rid of the HP Way."
The famous "HP Way" is deeply rooted and decades old. It is a casual, slow moving culture that some would say looks backwards rather than forward. Carly rose to the challenge of changing it. Waking this slumbering giant would not be easy and could not be undertaken half-heartedly. Incremental changes never have enough "escape velocity" to ensure that the changes won't evaporate back into the same old same old. Sometimes the best way to instigate a deep cultural change is through dramatic — even traumatic — events. The Compaq proxy fight and the massive reorganisations that she championed woke the giant. Carly's five years of confident, if not brash, leadership showed the employees of HP that there was another way to do business. Her smooth, articulate style got people looking forward rather than backwards.
In light of her goal to transform the culture at HP, her tenure there was always destined to be short. Leaders who effect dramatic change are always followed by ones who can restore operational stability. Rarely are these two leaders the same person, and Carly's weakness as an operational leader all but limited her long term role as the CEO.
As an outsider, I don't know that the culture has changed. My guess is that the culture today is not the same as it was 5 years ago. It is too soon to tell if any changes will snap back to pre-Carly norms. It seems to me that, if Carly's mission was to change the culture at HP, then she may have, in fact, succeeded.