The employees at Hewlett-Packard, where Carly Fiorina was CEO for six years, don’t seem interested in seeing their old boss become commander-in-chief.
Of the 302,000 employees at the company, not one has given a reportable amount to help Fiorina fund her 2016 presidential campaign, according to the campaign’s most recent FEC filings, which lists all donations over $200. HP’s corporate leadership also doesn’t seem keen on the idea of Fiorina in the White House. Among the 12-member board of directors, just one, Ann Livermore, has given a donation above that threshold.
Also missing from the donor list are current CEO (and former GOP gubernatorial candidate) Meg Whitman, any members of the senior leadership team, and all but one member of the HP Board during Fiorina’s tenure there from 1999 to 2005. Tom Perkins, a venture capitalist and former board member who voted to fire Fiorina in 2005, has since had a change of heart and donated $25,000 to CARLY for America, the super PAC supporting her.
The lack of early financial support from almost anyone associated with Hewlett-Packard is hard to square with Fiorina’s own description of her achievements there. While she acknowledges the “tough choices” she had to make as CEO, Fiorina aggressively defends her six-year run as a time when she transformed the company from an aging dinosaur into a market leader.
“We doubled the size of the company,” she told the audience at the recent CNN debate. “We quadrupled its topline growth rate. We quadrupled its cash flow. We tripled its rate of innovation.”
But Fiorina failed to explain during the debate that the company doubled in size because she pushed HP to merge with Compaq in 2001. That merger led to a company with two times the revenue, but only half of the value.
Fiorina also laid off 30,000 HP employees, moved thousands of jobs to China and India, and was fired by the board after a period so tumultuous that some disgruntled employees continue to refer to her as “Chainsaw Carly” or “Carly Failorina.” Her severance package was worth an estimated $42 million.
Interviews with HP employees during and after Fiorina’s leadership reveal a deep and simmering well of discontent 10 years after she left the company.
Dean Soderstrom, a sales operations manager at HP from 1999 until his retirement in 2015, said he saw feelings for Fiorina among rank-and-file employees sour quickly after she took over.
“Right from the get-go with Carly, it seemed like it was a two-class company. It was her and the rest of us,” Soderstrom said. “Many of her employees were very disenchanted by her. When she was let go, I think for the right reasons, there was a lot of singing ‘Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead.’”
To Soderstrom’s point, Fiorina’s first year at HP not only included an immediate overhaul of the company’s famous corporate culture, widely known in Silicon Valley as “the HP Way,” but also instant celebrity status for Fiorina, who was the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company. She appeared on the cover of more than 40 magazine covers in her first year, had her portrait hung in the company’s Palo Alto lobby next to the founders, and bought a Gulfstream IV for her travels. The previous CEO, Lewis Platt, famously flew coach.
“I don’t care if she’s a Democrat, Republican, or Independent. I would not support her for president,” Soderstrom said. “I would not give her two cents.”
Another former employee, who is now a CEO in Silicon Valley, and did not want his name used, said he would never consider supporting Fiorina for president and knows of none of his former co-workers who would. “My thoughts are no employee would donate to her campaign, ever,” he said. “She is a terrible leader, really, really bad. As bad as they come.”
A current employee, who also asked that his name not be used, said he felt HP never recovered from the changes Fiorina made. “HP is still not a happy place to work. It’s pretty much been a disaster for years, but I think Carly set the tone.” The company recently announced another round of 30,000 layoffs and a restructuring that will split the massive company into two smaller units.
Peter Burrows, the author of Backfire: Carly Fiorina’s Battle for the Soul of Hewlett-Packard, who covered Fiorina’s tenure at HP and remains in touch with current employees, said Fiorina started at HP with high hopes among staff that she would change the company, making it more relevant and nimble. Instead, she became the symbol of its demise.
“Everybody at HP knew the company needed to change and she sounded like she had the answers,” Burrows said. “That faded pretty quickly because it became clear that it was not translating into action and it began to seem empty.”
As her time at the company went on, the company’s performance sank, and layoffs were implemented, Burrows said people inside HP and throughout Silicon Valley began to put the blame for the company’s failures on the once high-flying Fiorina, an opinion that persists to this day.
“Most people think that she did not improve the company, that she made the company weaker, that she tore away some of its strengths,” Burrows said. “She had a small but incredibly loyal core group around her, but she lost the vast majority of employees.”
The Fiorina campaign did not respond to several requests for comment on this article.