• Carly Fiorina will run for president as a successful tech CEO. Silicon Valley says that's a fantasy

    Former Hewlett-Packard chief questions Hillary Clinton’s record in hunt for female voters and startup cash on campaign trail, but ex-colleagues insist Fiorina ‘didn’t know what she was doing’

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    ‘I’m not a political neophyte,’ Fiorina has told voters, ‘but I’m also not a professional politician.’ Critics question both. Photograph: Yuri Gripas/ReutersRory Carroll in Los Angeles and Rupert Neate in New York
    Sunday 3 May 2015 19.14 BSTLast modified on Monday 4 May 201500.25 BST

    When Carly Fiorina launches her campaign for president this week, her message to the world will be emphatic: what she did for HP, she can do for America.

    From spaghetti dinners in New Hampshire to startup conferences in New York, the former head of Hewlett-Packard is expected to keep staking her claim as a pioneering executive prodigy: “It is only in the United States of America that a young woman can start as a secretary and become CEO of the largest technology company in the world,” she recently posted on Facebook, next to a low rating from a pro-choice group that she called “a badge of honor”.
    Fiorina, 60, has never held public office. A 2010 run for US senate collapsed amid images of private jets and million-dollar yachts. Now, she hopes the revived record of a dot-com businesswoman will vault her over the otherwise all-male Republican field of mostly professional politicians – or at least lead to a spot as one of their vice-presidential running mates to face Hillary Clinton head-on.
    “We went from a market laggard to market leader,” Fiorina has said of her six years running the computer giant. “Unlike Hillary, I have actually accomplished something.”
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    But those who watched what Fiorina did to HP – mishandling the $25bn acquisition of Compaq, getting ousted by the board in 2005 with a $21m golden parachute, repeatedly being named one of the worst CEOs in American corporate history – say those supposed accomplishments are already coming back to “haunt” her run for the White House.
    “She put herself ahead of the interests of the company and I fear she would do the same as president,” Jason Burnett, a grandson of the late HP co-founder David Packard and a member of the Packard Foundation board of trustees, told the Guardian. “I don’t want her to do harm to this country.”

    HP’s longtime director of corporate communications, Roy Verley, said his ex-boss alienated colleagues with a “cult of Carly” that put self-promotion first.
    “She didn’t know what she was doing and couldn’t deliver on her promises,” said Verley, who left HP in 2000.
    The notion of a successful Fiorina reign at HP, he said, was “fantasy”.
    Burnett, echoing criticisms from more Hewletts and Packards alike, warned the emergent class of political bankrollers in Silicon Valley – already courted by Fiorina’s competitors like Rand Paul and Jeb Bush and soon Clinton herself– to “refresh their memory” before signing campaign checks.
    Leslie Shedd, press secretary for Carly for America, defended Fiorina’s tenure at HP, saying she doubled revenue, tripled innovation, quadrupled cash flow and bequeathed a stronger company.
    “Under Carly’s leadership, HP weathered the 2001 economic recession that shuttered some of the top tech companies in Silicon Valley,” Shedd said. “Carly Fiorina made the tough decisions that were necessary to reform the company, and HP and its shareholders reaped the rewards of those decisions after she left.”
    Shedd cited tech players such as investor Tom Perkins and Craig Barrett, former Chairman of the board at Intel, who defended Fiorina’s handling of the Compaq merger.
    She said Fiorina had had to deal with a “dysfunctional” board at HP and disputed the credibility of lists ranking her boss as one of America’s worst CEOs.
    “Those lists are based on no metrics,” Shedd said, “ are completely the opinion of whomever is compiling the list, and are nothing other than gossip.”
    But political scientists and technology bankrollers agreed that even a woman-focused, folksy-outsider-meets-business-insider campaign would struggle to shrug off cobwebby boardroom battles predating the Facebook era and re-emerge as much more than a longshot.
    “She takes the Silicon Valley motto that it’s ‘OK to fail’ a tad too literally,” wrote the usually sober editorial board of the San Jose Mercury News, in calling for more women in politics – except Carly Fiorina.
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