Current Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman doesn’t think former HP CEO Carly Fiorina is qualified to be president because the Republican contender has no political experience.
“I just think literally having some experience in politics is probably an important criteria for the highest office in the land,” Whitman told CNN over the weekend. “I think it's very difficult for your first role in politics to be president of the United States. I think having experience in the Senate or as the governor of a state is really important. It’s just hard to be dropped down in Washington, D.C. never having experience in politics before.”
Indeed, only five U.S. presidents have landed the job without prior electoral experience -- Ulysses Grant, Zachary Taylor, William Taft, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower.
Whitman’s been running HP since 2011, when she took on the role after a run of disastrous leadership at the struggling computer maker, and she is now preparing to split the company into two publicly traded entities. She’s probably most well-known for leading eBay from a startup to a booming auction site, but she did try her hand at politics in a failed run for governor of California. That's another thing she has in common with Fiorina, who lost a bid for senator in California in 2010.
Whitman also happens to be backing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in his bid for the presidential nomination. He’s not exactly the leading candidate for the role, and Whitman has declined to say who she will ultimately support in next year’s election.
There’s little evidence that business experience is a critical skill for U.S. presidents. Historically, the presidents with the most business experience have presided over periods of slow economic growth, according to an analysis from Robert McElvaine, a history professor at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi.
“The startling bottom line is that the nation’s GDP has grown more than 45 times faster under presidents with little or no business experience than it has under presidents with successful business careers,” McElvaine wrote in The Washington Post in 2012.
Fiorina and rival Donald Trump, however, have made business experience the cornerstone of their campaigns.
In last week’s GOP presidential debate, Fiorina said the chief executives of public companies are held to a higher level of accountability than those in political office.
“I had to report results every 90 days in excruciating detail,” she said. “If I misrepresented those results in any way I was held criminally liable. Imagine if a politician was held to that standard of account.”
Fiorina was fired from her job as CEO of HP in 2005, after struggling to manage the tech company through the dot-com bust and presiding over a huge drop in the company's stock price. As CEO she engineered a merger with Compaq betting that scaling up into an even bigger computer maker would save the business.
HP has been struggling to recover from the disastrous tie-up ever since.
The problem was that Fiorina apparently failed to understand the direction of the PC business -- it was increasingly becoming commodified. Desktop computers were getting cheaper and less profitable. HP competitor IBM simply got out of the market entirely. Prior to holding the CEO position at HP, Fiorina held a top role at telecom company Lucent.
CORRECTION: There have been five presidents without prior electoral experience. An earlier version omitted Taft and Hoover.