Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was the breakout star of last week's Republican Presidential debate. That is the consensus of most observers and she has experienced a corresponding rise in the polls.
Yale School of Management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld was mentioned twice during that debate, first by billionaire and current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump and then by Fiorina. Sonnenfeld is a longtime critic of Fiorina's performance as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Trump cited Sonnenfeld's critiques of Fiorina in his debate comments and Fiorina pushed back against those arguments. For his part, Sonnenfeld doesn't deny that he has negative views of Fiorina's tenure at Hewlett-Packard and he wrote in an article in Politico Magazine that:
Trump did get something right, though: my criticism of Carly Fiorina's disastrous term as CEO of Hewlett Packard. As Fiorina admits, I have been critical of her for over a decade--long before she announced her political aspirations. I have studied her business record, challenged her leadership abilities and have come to agree with the assessment that she was one of the worst technology CEOs in history. I stand by that evaluation.
Sonnenfeld goes on to provide support for that evaluation in great detail and he asks "why in 10 years has [Fiorina] never been offered another public company to run?" I strongly suggest that anyone reading this post read Sonnenfeld's article in its entirety. There is a lot to consider there.
I've previously written about Fiorina in the Independent Journal Review and I discussed her penchant for comparing herself with business leaders who have bounced back from setbacks, namely Steve Jobs. That piece makes it clear that I don't think that comparison is accurate. However, in my view that's a side-issue to a larger point. Carly Fiorina has made her service as CEO of Hewlett-Packard the centerpiece of her campaign. She cites it as proof of her leadership skills and willingness to take unpopular positions. It therefore is fair to ask about her work at Hewlett-Packard and its aftermath.
So here are the questions that need to be asked of Fiorina. Has any company asked you to be its CEO after you left Hewlett-Packard? If so, which companies did so and why didn't you take any of those offers? (To be fair to Fiorina, she may have had good reasons for turning down such opportunities.) If not, why do you think other companies haven't been interested in hiring you?
Those are simple questions that get to the heart of the matter. Opinions vary about whether Fiorina was a good CEO. Professor Sonnenfeld certainly doesn't think she was. But let's approach these questions from more of a market-oriented perspective rather than that of op-ed punditry. If Fiorina was as good a CEO as she says she was, then presumably some other company would want her as its leader. If no other company has asked her to become its CEO, then that's a market response worth considering. And if other companies have done so, then that would speak well for her and that information should be out there for the public to judge.
So - let's hear Fiorina's answers to those questions.