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Carly Fiorina


Giorgia Scaturro journalist

Leadership comes in small acts as well as bold strokes

As the 60th presidential election in the USA on 5 November 2024 is quickly getting closer, the American election machine is preparing the scene for the highly anticipated moment when, on a colourfully lit stage, the incumbent ‘prone-to-tumble’ octogenarian President Joe Biden will go face-to-face with the indomitable, controversial and most persistent impeached ex-president ever, Donald Trump. But there was a time, in 2016, when the presidential debates televised to the world in a ‘macho match’ style were briefly dominated by a candidate who lined up in a skirt, behind the 9th lectern in the row of 11 candidates flanking each other at the GOP debate wearing a tie. “The only way to reimagine our government is to reimagine who is leading it. I am Carly Fiorina and I am running for president” was her motto as candidate Fiorina, the only female Republican, who stood in the arena of the Grand Old Party. Unsmiling, fierce and sharp in fencing off Trumpian attacks: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” asked Trump publicly, “I mean, she is a woman and I am not supposed to say bad things but really folks, c’mon, are we serious?”. In the end Fiorina bagged a second political disappointment; after losing the California Senate election in 2010, her attempt at becoming US President was also unsuccessful. 

Don't think of yourself as a woman in business


Carly Fiorina is no Hilary Clinton. Her father was a Law Professor and a judge of the United States Court of Appeal, but she dropped out of UCLA School of Law after one semester, opting for studies in Business Management and Administration instead. She spent some time in the Italian "foodie" city of Bologna, teaching English to Italian businessmen. There, under the shade of ‘Le Due Torri’ (Two Towers) ‘Asinelli’ and ‘Garisenda’, the medieval leaning towers, a city landmark, Fiorina straightened the course of her life and embarked on a journey that would gain her what seems to be a recurrent epithet for her: ‘The first woman to… ’ 


Carly is the first woman to have become vice president of a tech company in a sea of suited men for example. 

We are in the Nineties, and the almost childish-sounding name ‘dot-com bubble’ epitomises an exceptional era in stock market history. One that was made of wires, codes, daring young tech startups and clicking keyboards scouring the world wide web. It's tech boom and the then called Cara Carleton Sneed starts from the bottom as a management trainee at AT&T, 10 years later becoming the company’s first female officer.

In her own words discussing her book ‘Find Your Way’ she explains: “My CV was unemployable and uninspiring. I started as a temp office staff typing, filing files and answering the phone but I am grateful to two men in the real estate industry who saw my potential and introduced me to business. I didn't have a plan to become a CEO and rise the corporate ladder. What I did was solve problems in front of me. Solving problems changes the order of things for the better. Eventually I would go on to Lucent Technologies and lead what was at the time the largest initial public offering ever in the stock market by a spin-off”. That spin-off, from AT&T’s research division soon to be known as Lucent Technologies, became one of the most successful IPOs in U.S. history, raising 3 billion Dollars: so in 1997 Carly (who by then had married her colleague at AT&T, Frank Fiorina) was nominated group president for Lucent's $19 billion global service-provider business. A year later her smiling smug face would be looking up from the cover of Fortune magazine ranking her No. 1 as "The Most Powerful Woman in American Business". 

A merger is hard to pull off under any circumstances. It's harder when everybody is against you


These are years when the proliferation of available venture capital pushed the boom of intrepid tech companies, speeding up IT advancement. Carly is riding the wave from Palo Alto, at the helm of the multinational Hewlett-Packard, producer of the world's first device to be called a personal computer. It’s 1999, and at the age of 44 Carly was hired by HP to transform a company that had lost its way’, she recalls. Mrs Fiorina was appointed as the first female CEO of a Fortune-50 company in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, receiving the largest signing offer, larger than any of her predecessors’.

Bubbles, though, tend to burst and Carly’s career also blew up when the Dotcom hysteria inevitably crashed. The decision she might still be regretting was to put her imperious foot down on her plan to merge HP, the second largest computer company in the US, with its competitor Compaq, despite the move being contested by HP co-founders’ sons Walter Hewlett and David Packard. The merger went ahead, the biggest ever seen in the tech sector, giving birth to the world’s largest seller of PCs. But the flop was unforgiving. Profits sank, 30,000 employees lost their job, including in 2005 their very CEO. Lady Tech, the first woman running the company, found herself to also be the first CEO of a Fortune 50 company to be sacked from the job. Sic transit gloria mundi as used to be said in ancient Rome: thus passes world's glory.



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AQA Capital

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