Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 11, 2010

FROM THE BOARD ROOM TO THE WAR ROOM.... There's no shortage of candidates this year who've never sought or held elected office, but who are running for high office based on their business experience. Karen Tumulty reports today on the larger phenomenon, and notes that it often goes poorly.

As Meg Whitman, California's new Republican gubernatorial nominee, puts it, she and GOP Senate pick Carly Fiorina are the "worst nightmare" of career politicians: "two businesswomen from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done."

Is she right? There is a long history of executives attempting to make the leap into public office.... The trouble is, by and large, CEOs have turned out to be pretty mediocre politicians.

There are, of course, exceptions, and Tumulty takes note of NYC's Michael Bloomberg (I) and Virginia's Mark Warner (D). But there are many more CEOs who've either lost despite spending enormous sums, or won and failed in office.

But most of the analysis covers successful business leaders who try to make the transition to public office. What I find fascinating is when awful business leaders try to parlay private-sector failure into political success.

Take Carly Fiorina, for example. Fiorina is the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in California this year, and her most notable accomplishment is having served as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. The key detail to remember, however, is that Fiorina was laughably bad at her job.

During a June 9, 2010 appearance on Fox News' On the Record, Carly Fiorina attempted to deflect criticism of her tenure as CEO of Hewlett Packard, claiming, "I'm really proud of my record, and the good thing about business is the facts are clear." The facts are clear, but they're nothing Fiorina should be proud of. She fired at least 18,000 people, sent jobs overseas, instigated a disastrous merger with Compaq, and was eventually fired.

I'm hard pressed to imagine what she's even thinking running for the Senate. It doesn't occur to most folks to think, "Well, I just got fired for running my company poorly. Next step: U.S. Senate!"

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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"Well, I just got golden-parachuted for running a baseball team and a whole slew of companies badly. Next stop, President of the United States!" George W. Bush.

Posted by: T-Rex on June 11, 2010 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

I'm hard pressed to imagine what she's even thinking running for the Senate.

Are you kidding? George W. Bush failed upward his entire life. I'm surprised Fiorina isn't running for President.

Posted by: Gregory on June 11, 2010 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

you assume of course that Carly is even thinking at all. Remember: not only was she a disaster at HP, she was so stupid as McCain's economic adviser in 2008 that he had to fire her too.... And you have to be seriously dumb for McCain to notice it.....

Posted by: chuck dc on June 11, 2010 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

But, but, but, Carly's hair is soooo "Today".

Posted by: berttheclock on June 11, 2010 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

I live in Kentucky. We had a Businessman Governor over 20 years ago in one Wallace Wilkinson (one of Carville's first high profile wins as a consultant). His governing skills were not good.

Business is business. Politics is politics. When a self-proclaimed bidnizman comes calling watch out. See "Presidency, USA, 2001-2009".

Posted by: Crgabe on June 11, 2010 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

Great minds, T-Rex.

Posted by: Gregory on June 11, 2010 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

We had a Businessman Governor over 20 years ago in one Wallace Wilkinson

Wilkinson was a creep. Fortunately that was back before the Republican Party went completely crazy, so I could vote for the Republican candidate and against Wilkinson in good conscience (also knowing that, at the time, the GOP hopeful had no chance of actually winning office).

Posted by: Gregory on June 11, 2010 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

Carly Failure-ina for Senate!
"Hey, if I can ship 18,000 jobs overseas, just think what I'll do about the unemployment problem in California!"
Will California really go for a woman who wanted to be a female "Neutron Jack Welsh," but who's only 'success' was in almost ruining her company, while at the same time getting a huge, "Please, please take this f#$king money, and get the f#$k out of Dodge as fast as possible," exit bonus?
Well, it is California, so anything's possible...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on June 11, 2010 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

Ms Fiorina, to paraphrase your quote about no American having a right to a job, "There is no Senatorial position that is America's God-given right anymore. You have to compete for the job".

However, I don't know if H-P is much different without her. She cut 20,000 jobs, and on the first of June, H-P announced 9,000 jobs will be cut in Oregon. Now, please, Ms Fiorina, tell us more about your sweetdeal of setting up in Dubai to trade with Iran.

Posted by: berttheclock on June 11, 2010 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

Anybody know what the scoop is on Whitman? The only thing I know is EBay bought Skype, and that went badly enough they sold it back. How did she do in her CEO stint?

Posted by: JPS on June 11, 2010 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

"Well, I just got fired for running my company poorly. Next step: U.S. Senate!"

It's the only logical step, where else is failure so greatly rewarded?

Posted by: Fed Up and Tired on June 11, 2010 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

"I'm hard pressed to imagine what she's even thinking running for the Senate. It doesn't occur to most folks to think, "Well, I just got fired for running my company poorly. Next step: U.S. Senate"

Then you haven't been paying attention to the US Senate. Incompetence is their hallmark.

Posted by: Jim Pharo on June 11, 2010 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

the problem with ceo's that run for election is that they think you can run government like a business. the reality is that government shouldn't be run like a business - that is the whole purpose and point of the government.

Posted by: just bill on June 11, 2010 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

I'm with Jim - her thoughts probably run along the lines of "No matter how bad I am, I'm better than at least half those clowns", and the sad thing is that as atrocious as she is, she'd likely be correct. (Most of the Republicans and more than a few Democrats seem decidedly substandard: try imagining a series of one-to-one comparisons, Carly vs Lieberman, vs DeMint, vs Boehner, vs Graham, etc., etc..)

Posted by: N.Wells on June 11, 2010 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

Fiorina is a classic poster child for the Peter Principle.What do you do with an incompetent person? Why, you promote them of course. Assuming that the senate job is a promotion.

Posted by: buddym on June 11, 2010 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

If you're really interested in Fiorina, you might want to go over old slashdot.org posts, where many embittered HP engineers and former fans of the company complained at length about her disastrous reign. It is widely repeated that there were multiple parties at HP to celebrate her departure, all after she left.

Posted by: Rathskeller on June 11, 2010 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

Fiorini was also incompetent as an executive in Lucent prior to her joining HP. She was in charge of marketing their products, and made the decision to provide financing to customers that banks and other financial groups wouldn't touch as they were bad credit risks. In essence, she "sold" them goods on the basis of a worthless IOU. However, this still counted as revenue for accounting purposes, and made her look good. When these companies couldn't make their payments, Lucent almost went bankrupt, lost nearly all their market value, and were forced to merge with Alcatel. But Fiorini's scam of "selling" to customers who couldn't afford their products was rarely mentioned.

Posted by: steve on June 11, 2010 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

And don't exaggerate how good a politician Bloomberg is. He became mayor mostly by accident, in the wake of September 11. And it's traditional in City politics that the failures only become apparent by the end of the third term (which he bought).

He's obviously toyed with trying for higher office, and it's no accident that he hasn't.

Posted by: David in NY on June 11, 2010 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

I've long wondered why Whitman and Fiorino even want to run for those offices. Truly, governor of California is a thankless/luckless job - and senator isn't much better. (A little, maybe).

I sure hope Jerry Brown's ads point out that Whitman spent something like $70 million on her primary campaign.

"If Med Whitman spends $70 million on her campaign, just imagine all the GOOD that money could have done if applied to charity works in California?"

Or something like that. These ads just write themselves...

Posted by: phoebes-in-santa fe on June 11, 2010 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

On the other hand, let me add two Republicans from Michigan who were pretty good politicians on the state level -- George Romney (Mitt's daddy) and Bill Milliken. In presidential politics, however, Romney showed the weaknesses of the CEO type, letting loose one blunt, but ill-considered, phrase that killed his campaign.

Posted by: David in NY on June 11, 2010 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Fiorina's successor at HP, Mark Hurd, is considered a resounding success as CEO for pursuing the exact same policies: staff elimination, jobs sent overseas, and mergers (to grow revenue without the hard work of actually coming up with something new and valuable, while simultaneously ensuring that there will be even more redundancy to weed out and costs to cut, i.e. jobs to kill).

Fiorina may well have been an awful CEO (my own job at HP came as a result of an acquisition of my original employer under Hurd), but the "classic" measures of CEO failure/success are useless. Hurd has pursued the very same policies to an even greater degree. Yet he is rewarded with obscene compensation and ridiculous puff pieces in the press. All because he was lucky enough to be CEO at a time when the price of the stock has improved. I expect he'll be long gone before the damage he's done will manifest itself in the stock price, and then those consequences will be blamed on his successor.

Posted by: TG on June 11, 2010 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

since carlyfornia sent so many hp jobs overseas, maybe she's planning on shipping the unemployed overseas, too.

Posted by: mellowjohn on June 11, 2010 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

I get the allusion to the hair cut and Barbara Boxer - but Carly had cancer and that is why her hair is so thin.

That doesn't make her fit for office though. She was a self promoting disaster as CEO. That said, I am not sure that the average person knows or cares about her performance. She positioned herself as a strsong female who earned respect in the board room and unfortunately I worry that is the image she will carry. She's kind of famous for being famous.

Posted by: jomo on June 11, 2010 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Geez, if the RepuGs really wanted a businessman who could run government like a business, they should fast forward Tony H to leave BP and become an American citizen.

But, ah, the ladies of the right. And, now, there appears to be a new "Chesty" Palin on the block.

Posted by: berttheclock on June 11, 2010 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Your assumption is that Senators should be competent and capable. I don't think Republicans share that assumption. Look at the ones there already.

I think Fiorina may realize she has proven herself unqualified for high-status jobs in the real world, so where else should she go but into Congress, where she can still hang out with the rich and powerful people, but won't have to be good at anything.

Posted by: biggerbox on June 11, 2010 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

"I'm hard pressed to imagine what she's even thinking running for the Senate." She has the money to be self-financing, so can make a credible campaign without using Republican party resources. Same with Meg Whitman. The Republicans go for candidates who can self-finance.

Posted by: BC on June 11, 2010 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

Observing corporate practices over a lifetime (I am not dead yet) the idea of governance through fear uncertainty and doubt seems standard . The thinking that these superior beings from corporate America can exercise their magic whilst turning stones into bread and dust into diet coke is a little exaggerated . A New Yorker cartoon , reminiscent of the ease of corporate governance , at least to the high priests of the board rooms presents two fashionable sorts , one appearing as a sort of stern vampire with a curdled eye receiving this reply , "You scare me Vincent , but I don't know if that is enough for marriage" .
The soviet style of top down diktat suits these these mighty saints of , "I thought I made a mistake once , I only committed an error in my thinking" . Damn the coffee breaks , and unpaid overtime for all the dirty little people may bring tears to a board rooms eyes , but it has many very hard to sell points to those of us who remember how to say NO .

Posted by: FRP on June 11, 2010 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

Fiorina's downfall as a visible presence in the McCain candidacy came when she stated that Palin was unqualified to run a large company. After her open mic disparagement of both Whitman and Boxer, Fiorina's approach to other women identifies her maturity level around age 13 and her smart, serious factor at 0. The open mic blunders aren't slips, they are instances when we're seeing something other than method acting.

Whitman doesn't have the mean girl factor. Her problem is that she only recently decided to vote and become involved. A political record isn't a prerequiste for office, but some minimal demonstration of engagement in the civil process before your 50th birthday seems reasonable.

Both strike me as bored and ego centric individuals who have plenty of money to buy their next adventure. Even though neither appear as blatantly idiotic as Palin, their avarice and ego are definitely commensurate.

Posted by: Diane Rodriguez on June 11, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

As Stew Beef pointed out, Meg Whitman spent $71 MILLION of her own money to beat a bespectacled insurance commissioner and Carly was voted one of the 20 worst CEOs of all time. So sounds about right that they be in politics.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on June 11, 2010 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

and she has an MBA!!

Posted by: mike Reilly on June 11, 2010 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

Fiorina really does know how to create jobs. Just not in America.

Posted by: kc on June 11, 2010 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

An overinflated ego can overcome a lot of personal failings.

Posted by: sparrow on June 11, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Quite simple, really:

Running a large corporation into the ground = bad.
Running government into the ground = good.

No right-winger goes to waste. The "good" ones become CEOs, the bad ones are sent to work for the competition (read: 'enemy'). Win-win!

Posted by: JTK on June 11, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

"Shortly after Whitman gave the state party $250,000 of her own money for voter-registration efforts, the Sacramento Bee reported there was no evidence that she had ever registered to vote before 2002 and she had not registered as a Republican until 2007."

The ads write themselves--just show every major politcal race or ballot issue of her adult life, followed by the words "But Meg Whitman couldn't be bothered."

And I'm not sure how big a plus the eBay credential is--it's like having been the owner of an Oldsmobile dealership.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on June 11, 2010 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

I'm hard pressed to imagine what she's even thinking running for the Senate. It doesn't occur to most folks to think, "Well, I just got fired for running my company poorly. Next step: U.S. Senate!"

I doubt that she views it that way. Although we look at her tenure at HP and see that the company's stock price dropped by 60% over that time period and the company suffered because of her decisions, she left the company with $20 million in severance. From a personal standpoint, that's pretty damn successful and screw everyone else. So, she views herself as being a success, even though she's something of a sociopath. Seems like a typical modern day Republican to me.

It's similar to what happened with the Wall Street bailout. We have the heads of financial firms creating an economic catastrophe that we're still suffering from. Did any of them lose their job? Did any of them lose one of their houses? Did any of them lose one of their cars? Not that I'm aware of. In fact, most of those guys made out pretty well, which makes them corporate successes. Meanwhile, back in the land of mere mortals, people can be financially ruined for years as the result of one bad decision or a bit of bad luck or a medical problem or a natural disaster.

Posted by: josef on June 11, 2010 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Didn't she essentially botch her job because she tried to replace an engineering culture with a business-oriented one? The same sort of disdain for actual technical experience that is endemic in Republican politicians?

Posted by: Anthony Damiani on June 11, 2010 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK



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